Reporters Without Borders is relieved that the eight SriLankaMirror and SriLankaXNews journalists and an office assistant arrested on 29 June were released the next day by Judge Kosala Senadheera of Colombo court No. 8 on the grounds that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had failed to produce evidence of actual wrongdoing.
According to an article on LankaeNews, an influential, trilingual news website based abroad, the judge ruled that no one can be arrested to prevent a crime that has not been committed.
The CID had said it raided the SriLankaMirror and SriLankaXNews offices in Colombo and arrested their journalists because they had published “false news” and because they had sent it to LankaeNews, which could have used it to defame the president and incite unrest.
Although the journalists have been released, they are still under investigation and the computer equipment that was taken from the SriLankaMirror journalists has still not been returned, preventing them from working normally. The computers are due to be produced in court at the next hearing, on 6 July.
The freed journalists have all decided to lodge complaints against the CID and the defence ministry for violating their fundamental rights by detaining them arbitrarily. Reporters Without Borders supports this initiative, which is needed to prevent such abuses from going unpunished. It also urges the authorities to close the investigation of the two sites, which were clearly targeted because of what they were reporting.
“The SriLankaMirror and SriLankaXNews journalists cannot be held responsible for the supposedly defamatory reports that might have been published on the basis of information they provided,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Reporting news and information is a fundamental right and duty for all journalists and it is up to LankaeNews to evaluate whether or not the information it obtains is accurate.”
LankaeNews has been hounded in recent years and reprisals against its journalists are increasing. Its Colombo premises were badly damaged in a January 2011 arson attack which the authorities blamed on its staff. Launched in 2005, it incurred the government’s wrath when it supported Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the leading challenger to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January 2010 presidential election.
29.06.12 - Eight journalists and an office assistant arrested in police raid on two news websites
Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns today’s police raids on the offices of two Colombo-based news websites, the SriLankaMirror and SriLankaXNews, in which eight of their journalists and an office assistant were arrested.
“We call for the immediate release of all those detained,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The exact reasons for the raids on these two news websites, which the authorities have had in their sights for some time, must be clarified without delay. However, given the government’s past violations of freedom of information, we regard it as an attempt to censor and intimidate critical journalists.”
The raids were carried out at around 11:45 a.m. by about 25 police officers from the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) and the Crime Investigation Department (CID), who had a search warrant issued by Judge Prasanna Alwis of Colombo court No. 4.
Both websites are located in the same building – 71 Thotupolar Road in the Colombo suburb of Athulkotte. One of them, SriLankaXNews, is operated by the United National Party (UNP), an opposition party.
The nine detainees were taken to CID headquarters in Colombo for questioning. They consisted of six SriLankaMirror journalists and an office helper:
1. Kleum Shivantha Rodrigo - editor 2. Ajith Senevirathne - photographer) 3. Tharindu Rajapaksa - feature writer) 4. Himashi Karunarathne - sports editor) 5. Shiranthini Manawadu - reporter 6. Asanka Nivantha - marketing manger 7. R.M. Preamawathi - office helper
And two SriLankaXNews journalists:
8. Siddik Kariyappar - Tamil-language editor 9. Subhash Jayawardane - features editor
The police confiscated computers from both offices, which they sealed. They also searched the home of Ruwan Ferdinandez, who used to work for SriLankaMirror and is now editor in chief of SriLankaXNews.
This not the first time the government has targeted the SriLankaMirror site, which was one of four leading independent news sites critical of the government that were blocked on the information ministry’s orders in November 2011. The other three were SriLankaGuardian, Paparacigossip9, and LankaWayNews.
Access to the SriLankaMirror site was unblocked after it appealed to the supreme court. The Lankaenews and Lankanewsweb sites have also been hounded by the authorities, especially in connection with their coverage of corruption.
Sri Lanka was classified as one of the countries “under surveillance” in the latest Reporters Without Borders report on “Enemies of the Internet.”