Sri Lankan Editor Freed, But Fears Grow for Missing Journalist

 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes

the release of Chandana Sirimalwatte, editor of the Sinhala newspaper Lanka, on February 16 after 18 days in

detention without charge.

 

According to

IFJ sources, Sirimalwatte’s unconditional release was ordered by a magistrate’s

court after the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Sri Lankan police

failed to present charges against him.

 

Sirimalwatte

was taken into custody on January 29, two days after incumbent president Mahinda

Rajapaksa was declared re-elected to a second term in office.

 

Lanka is aligned with a political party that had

strongly backed the rival candidate.

 

After the

editor’s detention, the premises of Lanka were sealed by police without

warrant or explanation. The office was unsealed by order of a magistrate’s

court on February 2. Sirimalwatte continued to be detained despite protests by Sri Lanka’s

journalists and international expressions of concern.

 

“The IFJ is

pleased that Sri Lanka’s

judiciary has upheld the rule of law and ordered the release of a journalist

whose arrest smacked of political vendetta,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

 

On February

15, Sirimalwatte filed a petition in Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court under the

fundamental rights clauses of the Constitution, challenging his detention

without charge. As publisher of Lanka, he also filed a petition

questioning the sealing of office on January 29.

 

“Unlike

earlier cases when fundamental rights petitions questioning the arbitrary

arrest and detention of journalists have been withdrawn in exchange for their

freedom, we hope that these petitions will be heard and authoritatively decided

by the Supreme Court,” White said.

 

“We hope

that the judiciary will in the process establish a strong norm against the

detention, harassment and mistreatment of journalists pursuing their

professional calling”

 

The IFJ

meanwhile continues to be concerned for the welfare of Prageeth Eknaligoda, a

senior journalist and political commentator who has been missing since January

24.

 

“The IFJ urges

the Sri Lankan authorities to disclose all information they have about Prageeth

Eknaligoda and immediately step up efforts to find him,” White said.

 

The IFJ further

calls on power-holders in Sri

Lanka to clarify the circumstances in which

the Information and Mass Media ministerial portfolio was taken over by the President

a few days back. There are reports that the President has advised the

Inspector-General of Police that all legal proceedings against journalists

should have his prior concurrence before being initiated.

 

“With all

respect to the office of the President, the IFJ strongly advises that regulation

of the media is best left to professional and apolitical bodies that are

committed to the basic norms and values of ethical journalism,” White said.

 

For

further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries