Sri Lanka: Journalists interrogated by police

Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) summoned two digital journalists for interrogation. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and Free Media Movement (FMM) condemn CID’s unnecessary interrogations of journalists and have concerns that these actions are being used as a tool to silence independent media.

Digital journalists, Dhanushka Sanjaya, who works for a website called The Leader, and Thushara Vitharana, employed by Voice Tube, were summoned by police for interrogation on November 28. Neither of the journalists were informed of the reason for being summoned, which is required by Sri Lankan law. Furthermore, CID did not first attempt to obtain the information from the journalists in a less intrusive manner. The two journalists left the police station following their interrogation.

While it is not known if there is a relation between the summons and the abduction an officer from the Swiss Embassy in Colombo, the two incidents are indicative the increasingly hostile political environment. Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected Prime Minister of Sri Lanka on November 21, despite allegations that Rajapaksa orchestrated attacks and murders of journalists between 2005 and 2015.

SLWJA said: “Despite the CID having the right to summon any person in connection with an investigation, they must inform the person or persons of the reason why he/she is being summoned, at the time of the summoning. If the due process is not followed, we understand this as a direct attack to press and freedom of expression."

FMM said they understand: “The responsibilities of the Police and the security forces with regard to an investigation. However, the Free Media Movement wants to highlight that the right of the journalists and the citizens to be informed about such incidents has been blocked. The context violates the principles of democratic political culture promoted by the authorities."

The IFJ said: “Interrogating journalists without reason is a sign the authorities are making a strategic effort to silence independent media. We urge Sri Lanka’s government and CID to firstly abide by their own rules as well as reassess their existing procedures. In the past, Sri Lankan authorities have been reluctant to hold murderers accountable for the killings of journalists. We urge the Sri Lankan Government to take an alternative approach that actively protects journalists and ends impunity for perpetrators.

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