Sri Lanka Mirror Staff Given Bail
- Defence Ministry says raid and arrest over false news
By Indika Sri Aravinda
Pictures by Thusitha Kumara and Pavithra De Mello
The nine employees of the Sri Lanka Mirror website were produced before the Colombo Magistrate’s Court yesterday and released on police bail.
They were ordered to appear in court again on July 6, the police said. The employees were taken to the CID office from the Court and set free.
On Friday the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) made a surprise swoop on the office of the Sri Lanka Mirror website located in Rajagiriya.
UNP MP Mangala Samaraweera said that the CID officers did not mention one word as to why the office of the news website was raided.
He said that the CID claimed to have had a search warrant in their hand to carry out the raid but yet failed to mention what they were searching for. Subsequently nine employees of the website, mostly journalists, were arrested on the basis that they need to be questioned, Samaraweera said.
Samaraweera himself got into a heated argument with the CID officers over the manner in which the raid was conducted. The raid continued in the presence of several journalists and representatives of media rights groups.
Samaraweera said that he believes the CID is now trying to obtain a warrant to search his house.
CID officers also visited the Narahempita house of Sri Lanka Mirror journalist Ruwan Ferdinands and carried out a search despite him not being at the house at the time. His wife had informed the CID that Ferdinands was not at home as he had gone to see Mr. Samaraweera.
The Defence Ministry said that acting on a court order the CID officers sealed the Sri Lanka Mirror office in Ragagiriya on Friday as two websites operating from within that office were involved in propagating false and unethical news on Sri Lanka.
“These two websites were continuously involved in publishing false and unethical news about celebrities and popular personalities, misleading the international and local communities,” the Defence Ministry said.
The U.S Embassy meanwhile said it was closely following the case of the Sri Lanka Mirror and Lankaxnews, including the arrest of nine individuals associated with those websites.
“We have raised on several occasions our deep concern over efforts to suppress independent news media, including the blocking of news websites, intimidation, and disappearances of journalists,” the Embassy said.
The United States believes that an uncensored and independent media available to all citizens is an indispensable part of any vibrant democracy and we call for an end to the harassment of these and all other journalists.
Meanwhile media rights groups last week raised concerns over the intimidation of journalists by officers claiming to be from the Defence Ministry.
Two weeks ago a journalist attached to the Lankadeepa newspaper had lodged a complaint with the Inspector General of Police (IGP) N. K. Illangakoon, saying that a group of people have questioned about him from neighbours of his ancestral home in Anuradhapua.
Journalist Sujith Mangala de Silva said that two unidentified men had visited his house in Katubedda and asked about his whereabouts. The men had spoken very aggressively with the mother of the journalist in an attempt to obtain the information they required. The journalist was not at home at the time. A lawyer representing the journalist lodged a complaint over the incident with the IGP.
Last week BBC journalist and President of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Gnanasiri Kothigoda said he had also faced similar intimidation at the hands of officers claiming to be from the Defence Ministry.
He said that the officers had visited his house in Wadduwa and asked about his family and his movements. Kothigoda said that he could not attend a press briefing held last week owing to fears he faced following that incident.
“My information is with the Government Information Department and my mobile number, like that of most journalists, is freely accessible so why should any officer go to our homes and gather information. The way this is done is not right,” Kothigoda said.
He charged that local laws are being violated by the officers involved in the raids and checks on journalists.
Kothigoda said that the raid on the Sri Lanka Mirror website office was carried out in the same manner that raids are carried out on terrorist groups.
He questioned as to why the police had yet failed to arrest government media journalist Sudharman Radaliyagoda who had a warrant against him and yet carry out raids on the private media.
“Don’t we have a right to highlight the corrupt actions of some government officials? The government says the media is free. Yes they are free but when they report something, that is when they face the consequences,” he said.
He also noted that when officers claiming to be from the Defence Ministry or the CID conducts a raid on the house of a journalist, people in the neighborhood begin to assume that the journalist is involved in some criminal activity.
“That tarnishes our image for life. This sort of action must stop and it must stop now,” he stressed.
Freedom House, a United States- based non-governmental organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, had ranked Sri Lanka 161 out of 197 countries in terms of press freedom in its report for 2012.
Meanwhile the annual World Press Freedom Index for 2011 compiled by the Paris based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and released earlier this year ranked Sri Lanka 163 out of 178 countries.