For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
By Hemali Abeyratne
Wife of Chandana Sirimalwatte – Lanka Chief Editor
(February 11, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Editor of the “ Lanka” newspaper is being held by the Government in illegal detention!
Things took a turn for the worst when the January 25th 2010 issue of Lanka carried a story on a house built on an illegally obtained forest reserve in the Kataragama area, south of Sri Lanka ; the house belongs to the Defence Secretary and the brother of the President, Gotabhaya Rajapakse.
On 28th January 2010, the Defence Secretary has called the leader of a mainline Sri Lankan political party, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP), Somawanse Amarasinghe on the phone and threatened to set Lanka newspaper on fire. The same day, the JVP held a media briefing to tell the world about the threat. On the 29th January, officers of the CID visited the Lanka office and informed that Chief Editor Chandana Sirimalwatte should come to their office for a statement. When Chandana went to the CID to make a statement, he was held back under a special detention order. He is kept in custody until now under a special detention order signed by the Defence Secretary as per the Prevention of Terrorism Act. No formal charges have been brought against him – neither has he been produced in court, according to the normal and accepted law of the land.
On 30th January, the CID came to the Lanka office armed with a court order and sealed the office, banning the newspaper. Their reason was that the newspaper was attempting to engage in a “conspiracy to overthrow the Government”. Having questioned the journalists in the office, the CID officers came to my house and wanted to search the house but I refused to allow them to proceed since they did not have a search order issued by a court.
On the 01st February, the Gangodawila Magistrates Court issued an order to withdraw the ban on Lanka – the court upheld that there was no credible evidence that the newspaper has resorted to engage in an “anti-Government conspiracy”. However, my husband continues to be held in detention at the CID. The CID tells me that he has attempted to undermine the investigations into terrorist activity by giving publicity to such stories in the newspaper. However, their earlier story was that he had attempted to overthrow the Government. Since that theory did not hold water, they seemed to have switched stories.
I believe that my husband is being held in illegal detention for over 14 days without being produced in a court of law and without any charges being formally brought against him. It is obvious that the Government is trying to stifle the right of all Sri Lankans to information and crush the principles of universally accepted press freedom. I kindly appeal to all organizations everywhere committed to preserving media freedom and human rights in Sri Lanka, to assist me in freeing my husband. I and my family await his return.