IFJ Condemns Arrest of Printing Staff in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is

outraged at the arrest of the owner and staff of a print-shop in Sri Lanka

on the eve of an important constitutional amendment debate in the national

parliament.

 

 

According to

the Free Media Movement (FMM), an

IFJ affiliate, the arrests followed a police raid on the shop, Sarala Graphics,

in Nugegoda town, neighbouring Colombo,

on the night of September 7. Eight workers of the print shop, including a

woman, were arrested. The police reportedly inquired about the whereabouts of

the owner of the print shop, but could not find him on the premises.

 

At the time

it was raided, the print shop was reportedly printing campaign posters opposing

the 18th amendment to the Sri Lankan

constitution.

 

A few hours

later, around 3 am on September 8, a police party went to the residence of the

printer, Jayampathy Bulathsinhala. Finding that he was not present, they

arrested his wife and her two younger brothers. Bulathsinhala surrendered

before the local police station a few hours later and was remanded in custody.

His wife and her two brothers were released on bail that evening.

 

Bulathsinhala

has said he was executing the print order for Sri Lanka’s

main opposition, the United National

Party (UNP). Mangala Samaraweera, a member of parliament and UNP media

coordinator, informed police that the poster was meant for public display as

legitimate campaign material, which was not against the law.

 

According to

information from media and other sources, the arrests in Nugegoda cast a shadow

over the debate in parliament that followed, when bitter partisanship reportedly

dominated. Opposition members who chose to make a stand on issues of human

rights, including the right to free speech, were vilified.

 

The 18th amendment reverses many of the democratic reforms promised under the 17th amendment, adopted in 2001 and never fully implemented.

 

IFJ

affiliates in Sri Lanka have

expressed concerns that the 18th amendment could have serious

implications for media freedom, as it puts the power to appoint many of the

autonomous oversight bodies envisaged for vital sectors of governance in the

hands of the President.

 

“The raid on

the premises of the printer and the mass arrests of staff speaks of a growing

threat to the free speech right in Sri Lanka,”

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

 

“This diminishes

hopes for an improvement in the overall civil rights environment after the end

of the country’s civil war in May 2009.

 

“The IFJ demands

that the local police immediately discharge the printer, Jayampathy

Bulathsinhala, and all the others who were wrongly arrested.”

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries

 

Find the

IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific