Four Tamil journalists based in the northern cities of Mannar and Vavuniya were summoned for questioning by the police in Colombo yesterday, just days after another journalist received a similar summons that resulted in his being charged with publishing false information.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) are concerned that the Sri Lankan authorities are resuming practices designed to intimidate Tamil journalists.
No reason was given for the summonses that the Colombo Crime Division issued yesterday to Anthony Thevarajan Mark of the Rupavahini Corporation, Jude Pelistis of ITN, freelancer Lambert Rosairo and Ponnaia Manikkavasagam, who works for the BBC and the Tamil daily Veerakesari.
But harassment of the Tamil media has been growing in recent days. Journalist James Joseph Fernando was summoned by the police on 26 April and questioned about articles published in 2009 in Veerakesari that criticized actions carried out by the government as part of its policy of resettling the north.
The then resettlement minister is the current government’s trade and industry minister.
Police in the northern city of Jaffna arrested N. Logathayalan, a freelance journalist working for the newspaper Uthayan, on 8 April because of an article implicating Jaffna-based officers in a case of police violence. He is to appear before a judge on 29 May. Two other journalists have reported being the victims of police aggression.
“This increase in acts of intimidation against Tamil journalists is disturbing,” said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.
“President Maithiripala Sirisena’s first 100 days in office have just ended without any attempt to keep promises to improve respect for media freedom. We urge this government not to repeat the authoritarian errors of the previous government led by the Rajapaksa family, and to refrain from harassing independent news media and Tamil journalists in particular.”
Sri Lanka is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.
After the 8 January election, RSF and JDS asked the newly-elected President Sirisena to end the policy of violence against journalists that had been pursued by his predecessor, President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and to combat impunity for this kind violence.