For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
NfR expresses its serious concern that a printing press has been sealed, the printer and eight other printing workers have been detained and the printer’s family was taken hostage by the police under the emergency regulations for printing a political poster.
One of the two posters depicts President Rajapaksha as Hitler. The other poster depicts Rajapaksha family holding onto various government institutions. These posters were a part of the campaign against the dreadful 18th amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka.
Although the Parliamentarians of the main opposition, the United National Party (UNP), has taken the responsibility of the posters, the defense ministry has issued detention orders for the printer Jayampathi Bulathsinhala and eight workers of ‘Sarala Graphics’ of Gangodawila, Nugegoda, where the posters were printed. One of the printing workers detained is a female.
Taking the wife of the printer and her two younger brothers as hostage until the printer handed himself in to the Mirihana police station and arresting printing press workers for just doing their job is a clear violation of human rights and threat to their personal safety. Furthermore, these unlawful actions will serve as a frightening message to all printers and printing workers of the country.
It was also reported that the police confiscated large numbers of political posters opposing the 18th amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka from the office of the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) MP Sunil Hadunnetthi on the same day. Meanwhile state media has been trying to link the printing press ‘Sarala Graphics’ to the JVP with an apparent hidden agenda. In a statement JVP has denied the accusation of the state media.
These acts of intimidation by politicized Sri Lankan Police will exert more pressure on the already restricted freedom of expression rights of all Sri Lankans. NfR condemns all obstacles imposed on peoples’ right to dissent and protest. We urge all democratic forces in the country to forge a united democratic front to fight the impending dictatorial menace in Sri Lanka.
Back ground information:
On the night of September 7, 2010, Sarala Graphics, a printing press in Walauwatta road, Gangodavila Nugegoda was raided by the Police, from the special unit located at the Mirihana police station, looking for a poster printed by the UNP. The posters were not at the press but all eight workers present there were arrested.
At about 3 a.m. on 8 September 2010, police went to the house of the printer, Jayampathy Bulathsinhala, in Kandewatte road, Nugegoda. He was not at home. They arrested his wife, Kumudu Wijeyawardena, and her two younger brothers, Nimal and Kelum Wijeyawardena, who were in the house at the time. The three of them were also asked for the posters. They said they knew nothing. They were taken to the Mirihana police station and in the morning, were taken to the premises of the New Vidyadara Bookshop in Maradana, which is where the office of J and J printers, the name under which the printer operates, is located. The premises were searched. No posters were found. ( J and J Printers is the printing press owned by Jayampathi Bulathsinhala)
At about 1 p.m. Jayampathy Bulathsinhala went to the Mirihana Police Station and handed himself over to the police. He remains in custody at the time of writing this (12 noon on 9 September 2010). A Detention Order under the Prevention of Terrorism Act has been served on him.
In the afternoon, UNP MPs. Mangala Samaraweera, Jayalath Jayawardena and Dayasiri Jayasekera went to the Mirihana Police Station and informed the police that Jayampathy had being executing a printing order for them and that they would take full responsibility for the poster. However, the police asked them too to hand over the poster if they wanted Jayampathy to be released.
Kumudu and her two brothers were produced before the Magistrate on the night of 8 September and released on bail. They are noticed to appear in Court on 13 September 2010.
The eight persons arrested from the press and printer Bulathsinhala have been served with defense ministry detention orders.
Issued by Steering Committee of NfR – Sri Lanka:
Iqbal MCM ( The Netherlands), Lionel Bopage ( Australia), Nadarasa Sarawanan (Norway), Nadarajah Kuruparan(UK) Padmi Liyanage (Germany), Raveendran Pradeepan (France), Rudhramoorthy Cheran (Canada), Saman Wagaarachchi ( USA), Sunanda Deshapriya ( Switzerland)