Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sri Lanka : Intimidation of journalists close to General Fonseka worries RSF

Reporters Without Borders is very worried by attempts to intimidate at least four journalists linked to jailed opposition leader Sarath Fonseka, who are being threatened with prosecution. They have been summoned by the anti-terrorist police and they fear they could be arrested at any time for a period of 90 days, which is allowed by the law.

“We urge the authorities not to arrest these four journalists: Tissa Ravindra Perera, Ruwan Weerakoon, Prasanna Fonseka and his brother Mihiri Fonseka,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is very regrettable that the proceedings initiated against retired general Sarath Fonseka, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s leading opponent, are being accompanied by a witch-hunt against his relatives and supporters.”

The press freedom organisation added: “If these journalists, some of whom were able to benefit in the past from their proximity to Gen. Fonseka, are detained by the police and judicial authorities, it will be seen as yet another abuse of authority aimed at silencing opposition media figures.”

The four journalists were questioned by members of the Terrorism Investigation Division this week. According to a Colombo-based reporter, they were questioned about their relations with Gen. Fonseka, who is facing a possible court martial. One of them, Weerakoon, who covers defence matters for the daily The Nation, has been hospitalised under police guard after suffering a heart attack apparently brought on by the pressure he has been under for several weeks.

Reporters Without Borders has been told by several sources that these journalists, some of whom have been in hiding since the presidential election in January, are physically and mentally exhausted. They were with Gen. Fonseka at the Cinnamon Lakeside Hotel when it was besieged by the army on the day after the election, in which Rajapaksa defeated Fonseka.

Gen. Fonseka allowed several of these journalists to cover the final stages of the military operations against the Tamil Tigers rebels in 2009, when he was still army commander. As a result, their reporting highlighted his successful handling of the war.

Reporters Without Borders also condemns the climate of intimidation resulting from the recent release of an alleged list of journalists and human rights activists to be kept under surveillance by the security services. According to a diplomatic source in Colombo, around 30 people are on the list including the representatives of Transparency International Sri Lanka and the Centre for Policy Alternatives, as well as Sinhalese and Tamil journalists.

“If the existence of such a list is confirmed, we urge the authorities to put a stop to these practices,” Reporters Without Borders said.

Finally, Reporters Without Borders calls on the police authorities to release the findings of their investigation into the disappearance of political reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who went missing in Colombo on 24 January.

© Reporters sans frontières

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