CPJ calls on Sri Lankan government to respect press freedom despite national state of emergency

New York, April 4, 2022 – The Sri Lankan government must respect freedom of the press, ensure unrestricted access to social media and communication platforms, and allow the media to operate freely and independently during a national state of emergency. , said the Committee to Protect Journalists. Monday.

On Friday April 1, the Sri Lankan government declared a state of emergency, allowing authorities to make arrests without warrants, and imposed a curfew to contain protests after violent protests against the The country’s economic crisis erupted last week, according to news reports.

On the evening of March 31, Sri Lankan police and security forces arrested at least six journalists covering a protest outside the private residence of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in the Mirihana district of the capital Colombo, according to a report by Journalists for the Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS), a local press freedom group; a statement from the Federation of Media Employees’ Unions (FMETU), a local network of journalists’ and media workers’ unions; the news; and a JDS representative, who spoke to CPJ on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisals.

Police arrested more than 50 people at the protest, used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protesters, and filed charges against more than 50 people, including the six journalists. According to the JDS representative, the six were charged with violating article 120 of the penal code, which makes it an offense to “excite feelings of disaffection” against the president or the government. If found guilty, the journalists face up to two years in prison.

“Sri Lanka must not use the state of emergency as an excuse to muzzle press freedom at this critical time in the country’s history, when access to information is vital for all citizens,” “Authorities must stop detaining and harassing journalists, allow the media to report safely and independently, and ensure unrestricted access to social networks and communication platforms.

The Gangodawila Magistrate’s Court in Nugegoda Municipality, a suburb of Colombo, granted bail to the six journalists on April 1, according to the JDS representative.

On Sunday, April 3, authorities restricted access to a number of social media and communication platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Viber and YouTube, which were largely restored after 4 p.m., according to NetBlocks, a watchdog organization that monitors internet censorship. .

CPJ was unable to immediately identify the contact details of the six journalists and confirm their exact job titles due to nationwide power cuts caused by the current economic crisis. CPJ continues to investigate the circumstances surrounding the arrests and detention of the six journalists.

The following six journalists were detained while covering the protest, according to FMETU and JDS:

  1. Chatura Deshan, who reported for the private Sinhalese-language television channel Sirasa TV.
  2. Sumedha Sanjeewa Gallage, who was reporting for the private Sinhalese-language television station Derana TV, was seen being escorted into a police vehicle in a Facebook Live video taken by a passerby and posted on social media on April 1st. Sunday time that he was assaulted by officers from the Special Task Force, an elite paramilitary unit of the Sri Lankan police, during the protest after he repeatedly identified himself as a journalist and showed his identity card of media. He appeared to have suffered significant bruising to his face and his shirt appeared to be covered in blood in a Photo disseminated on social networks. Gallage said he was assaulted by another unidentified individual before being taken to Mirihana police station and receiving medical treatment at a hospital after being released on bail, according to The Sunday Times. Gallage says he lost partial vision in his right eye due to the assault and will need further medical attention.
  3. Awanka Kumara, who reported for Sirasa TV. Kumara’s video camera was smashed during a police baton charge, according to JDS. “I never thought that journalists would be attacked in this way because they know us. We have been reporting on these events for a long time,” Kumara said. Lanka Files.
  4. Waruna Wanniarachchi, who reported for the private Sinhalese-language daily lankadeepa.
  5. Nishshanka Werapitiya, who reported for Derana TV, appeared to have bruised her face in a photo shared by JDS on Twitter.
  6. Pradeep Wickramasinghe, who was reporting for Derana TV, appears to have sustained multiple bruises to his right arm in a photo shared by JDS on Twitter.

CPJ investigates reports than Nisal Baduge, who reported for the private English-language daily DailyMirrorand Lahiru Chamara, who reported for Derana TV, were also assaulted while covering the March 31 protest.

On Sunday April 3, 2022, the Tamil National People’s Front, a political alliance representing the Tamil ethnic minority, reported that police prevented journalists from entering his office in the Kokkuvil suburb of the northern city of Jaffna, where they arrived to cover his press conference, harassed them and turned them away after recorded their names. CPJ was unable to immediately confirm the identity of these journalists.

CPJ is also investigating reports that a group of individuals posing as members of the president’s media division threatened and intimidated Tharindu Jayawardena, editor of the private news site medialk.com. Jayawardena filed a complaint at Mirihana Police Station in response to the incident, according to FMETU.

In July 2021, a collective of media organizations wrote a letter to Chandana Wickramaratne, Inspector General of the Sri Lankan Police, after Deshabandu Tennakoon, Senior Deputy Inspector General of the Western Province of Sri Lanka, threatened Jayawardena for “having published fabricated information” after the journalist shared a medialk.com Facebook post, which reported that Tennakoon had received a pay rise following the 2019 Easter bombings.

Sri Lankan police spokesperson Nihal Thalduwa did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via the messaging app. President Rajapaksa’s office did not respond to CPJ’s email request for comment.

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