Friday, March 19, 2010

Sri Lanka: RSF demands immediate release of the arrested journalist

Reporters Without Borders condemns the arrest of a journalist close to Sarath Fonseka, the former armed forces chief who was President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s main challenger in January’s election, and calls on the authorities to release him at once.

“We are outraged by Ruwan Weerakoon’s arrest,” Reporters Without Borders said. “What we feared has come about. The decision to prosecute him is part of a witch-hunt against the relatives and supporters of Gen. Fonseka, who is himself under arrest. The police and judicial authorities have again abused their powers in order to silence an opposition journalist.”

The press freedom organisation added: “Just a month ago, President Rajapaksa ordered the police to personally inform him before any arrest of media personnel. We would like to know if presidential consent was obtained before this journalist’s arrest.”

Weerakoon, who was arrested earlier this week, writes regularly on defence issues for two newspapers, the Nation and Bottom Line, and the Asia Tribune website. It was as a defence correspondent that he became close to Gen. Fonseka when the latter was in command of the army during the final stage of the war against the Tamil Tiger rebels in May 2009.

Five media organisation issued a joint statement today condemning his arrest. “We ask the inspector general of police to disclose the reasons behind his arrest and detention and make arrangements for him to receive legal aid immediately,” the statement said.

Prior to being arrested, Weerakoon was hospitalised under a police guard after suffering a heart attack brought on by the pressure he has been under for several weeks.

© Reporters sans frontières

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