Sri Lanka: Journalist investigated over YouTube channel

Journalist and media activist Tharindu Uduwaragedara was summoned to appear before the Sri Lanka Computer Crimes Division of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Colombo on June 28. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its Sri Lankan affiliates, the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU), urge the CID to withdraw its investigation against the journalist immediately.

Journalist Tharindu Uduwaragedara was summoned to appear before the Sri Lanka Criminal Investigation Department on June 28. Credit: Tharindu Uduwaragedara / Facebook

The CID began investigating Tharindu based on a complaint by the Intelligence Division of the Air Force about content on his YouTube channel, ‘Satahana’. According to FMM, the investigation is related to so-called “contradictions between the headings and the content in his videos”.

The journalist was allegedly targeted for criticism of the government that might lead to public unrest, for videos regarding the ongoing socio-political and economic crisis in the country which raised questions of government accountability and transparency.

Tharindu, a former president of the Sri Lanka Young Journalist Association and a former executive committee member of IFJ affiliate the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), has filed a Fundamental Rights petition in the Supreme Court seeking an order to prevent the CID from arresting him.

Press freedom and journalists’ rights have been increasingly under threat in Sri Lanka since the country commenced its descent into political and economic turmoil in 2019. The country is experiencing its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1958, a situation further exacerbated by the impacts and lockdowns of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

FMM said recent actions against journalists by the CID and Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Unit were without legitimate cause and constituted a clear violation of media freedoms. Journalists in the country have faced brutal physical attacks, threats, and arbitrary arrests by police, government officials, and pro-government supporters even after identifying themselves as media workers. A social media blackout and censorship of journalists online and in traditional media outlets has also further curtailed press freedoms.

The FMM said, “We urge the Prime Minister, the Minister of Public Security, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, the Inspector General of Police and other authorities to immediately stop this arbitrary action of the CID of summoning and interrogating those who use their freedom of expression through the media or any other medium.”

The FMETU said, The government continues to use the police and security forces to obstruct journalists and the free media reporting culture in Sri Lanka.As a prominent journalists' organisation in Sri Lanka, FMETU strongly condemns such idiotic actions of the government and the police department.”

The IFJ said, “During the political and economic crisis in Sri Lanka, media workers are performing a vital duty to inform the public, yet they have continued to face an onslaught of legal restrictions, arbitrary arrests, and media rights violations. The IFJ condemns the overreach of the CID in targeting journalists and calls for the investigation against Tharindu Uduwaragedara to be dropped.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on [email protected]

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

Twitter: @ifjasiapacific, on Facebook: IFJAsiaPacific and Instagram