IFJ Questions Charges Against Sri Lankan Editor

The IFJ joins its affiliate the Free

Media Movement (FMM) in calling for the immediate release of Lanka-e-News news editor Bennett Rupasinghe,

who was arrested on March 31 on charges related to an arson attack on the news

portal’s office earlier this year.

 

In the early hours of January 31, unknown arsonists

destroyed the Lanka-e-News offices in Malabe, near the

capital Colombo,

causing around USD 135,000 worth of damage. At 2:30am the same night, Rupasinghe, 68,

received a call from an unknown person threatening to kill him if he did not

stop his work.

 

Police arrested two suspects soon after the incident but

the men were released on bail because police failed to produce evidence upholding

their guilt. It is alleged that Rupasinghe threatened one of the men’s brothers

at gunpoint and also threatened him over the phone. However,

police told the Kaduwela Magistrate’s Court they were unable to find the weapon

that Rupasinghe allegedly used.

 

According to the FMM, Rupasinghe was

arrested by police after being summoned to Wellampitiya police station to

record a statement. He is also accused of withholding information from Sri Lankan officials. Rupasinghe’s lawyers told FMM that

they believe the police are turning him into a suspect of the arson attack for

political reasons.

 

“This arrest appears to be yet

another attempt to silence media organisations and journalists who are openly critical

of the Government of Sri Lanka and

must be called into question,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director

Jacqueline Park said.

 

“The authorities must ensure that a thorough investigation into

the Lanka-e-News arson attack is

conducted swiftly, so those responsible are brought to justice.”

 

The FMM reports several other Lanka-e-News journalists have been under

surveillance since the arson. Journalists Sanjaya Dasanayake and Shantha

Wijesooriya reported being followed to work recently and Lanka-e-News lawyer Manjula Pathiraja was

also threatened.

 

Lanka-e-News editor

Sandaruwan Senadeera blamed the Government of Sri Lanka

for orchestrating the arson attack to silence his dissenting website, an AFP

report said. Senadeera fled to Britain

after receiving death threats in January 2010. Cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who

has been missing since January 24, 2010 also worked for the organisation until

the time of his disappearance.

 

Rupasingheis

being held in custody until a hearing on April 7.

 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ represents 600,000

journalists in 125 countries

 

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