The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its partners in the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) strongly condemn the June 29 crackdown by Sri Lanka’s police and security agencies, in which the offices of two web-based news sites were raided and nine media workers arrested.
The IFJ learns from Sri Lankan affiliates that a team of approximately 25 law enforcement officials arrived at the shared premises of the two websites, SriLankaXNews and SriLankaMirror, on Friday morning. All the media workers present were detained within the locked premises for three hours and questioned by the police, following which they were taken away to the headquarters of the Crime Investigation Department (CID). They are yet to be released and no formal explanation has been issued by the police authorities on the reasons for their arrest.
Computers and other equipment were confiscated from the premises of the news websites.
Concurrently, the police also raided the residence of Ruwan Ferdinandez, formerly with the SriLankaMirror and now editor-in-chief of SriLankaXNews. The latter is widely regarded as the news website of Sri Lanka’s principal opposition, the United National Party.
Just the day before the raids, Sri Lanka’s government had ordered the country’s main internet services to cut off access to five Tamil-language news websites: TamilWin, Athirvu, Sarithan, Ponguthamil and Pathivu.
“We note that this crackdown occurs immediately after the government ordered the dissolution of the elected governing councils in three provinces of the country, including the politically sensitive eastern province”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.
“The raids on independent media speak of an intent to seriously curb critical commentary during the campaign and run-up to fresh elections in these provinces”.
SriLankaMirror was one of five websites blocked by the government in November 2011, following a directive that all websites carrying news and current affairs content on the country should be registered with the Ministry of Information.
It was subsequently unblocked on condition that it would not provide links to any unregistered websites.
In May, Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court declined to hear a petition filed under the fundamental rights clauses of the Constitution, seeking that the restraints on accessing the websites be removed.
“We are deeply saddened that despite the return of peace and relative political stability in Sri Lanka, the intolerance for independent media reporting and commentary shows no signs of abating”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.
“We demand the immediate release of the nine detained media workers and the removal of all restrictions on accessing the websites that have been at the receiving end of the government’s unwelcome attention”.