Sri Lanka: Two journalists detained without trial, many more threatened and intimidated

Amnesty International raises concerns about crackdown on press freedom

Amnesty International is extremely concerned about a new crackdown on press freedom in Sri Lanka, following the detention on Monday (26 February) of 40-year-old Dushyantha Basnayake, Director of Sinhala newspaper Mawbima, by officials from Sri Lanka’s Terrorist Investigation Division (TID).

Another journalist from the same newspaper, Munusamy Parameshawary, has been held without charge by the TID for the last three months. Amnesty International has also received reports of many other journalists being detained and receiving death threats.

All the journalists detained are being held incommunicado and are at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

“The harassment and detention of journalists who have reported on human rights violations in Sri Lanka is very worrying. It seems that very little is being done to stop this harassment and that this impunity has allowed it to escalate. The Sri Lankan government should ensure that all journalists are permitted to work without interference.”

Dushyantha Basnayake was reportedly detained under anti-terrorism laws after being questioned in his office by TID officials. These laws allow for people to be held incommunicado for up to three months. It is thought his detention may be connected to recent articles published in Mawbima about human rights violations in Sri Lanka. Mawbima has carried articles that criticised President Mahinda Rajapakse's support for a military solution to the ongoing conflict between government security forces and the armed group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Munusamy Parameshawary, also a journalist for Mawbima, has been detained under anti-terrorism laws since 22 November 2006, on suspicion of having links with the LTTE. She had written articles concerning the alleged perpetration of "disappearances" by security force personnel. She has not been charged with any offence. For the first month of her detention, she was denied access to lawyers, and all journalists, including the editor of Mawbima.

Amnesty International is now seriously concerned about the crackdown on press freedom in Sri Lanka. The "disappearance" of journalist Subramaniam Ramachandran on 15 February is an example of acts of violence and intimidation against journalists and human rights activists taking place in areas controlled by the Sri Lankan government. There seems to be complete impunity for harassment and detention of journalists.

There have been recent reports of a number of people "disappearing" or being abducted by the security forces or armed groups. Such people are often called or taken in "for questioning" and held incommunicado. No receipts or records of their detention are made available, and the official mechanisms for reporting such events, such as through the National Human Rights Commission, are often unable to locate the missing people.

Amnesty International has issued an urgent appeal to its members who are writing to the Sri Lankan authorities calling on them to ensure no journalist in detention is tortured or ill-treated, and to release them immediately and unconditionally unless they are charged with a criminal offence.

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