For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is outraged at the arrest of the owner and staff of a print-shop in Sri Lanka on the eve of an important constitutional amendment debate in the national parliament.
According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, the arrests followed a police raid on the shop, Sarala Graphics, in Nugegoda town, neighbouring Colombo, on the night of September 7. Eight workers of the print shop, including a woman, were arrested. The police reportedly inquired about the whereabouts of the owner of the print shop, but could not find him on the premises.
At the time it was raided, the print shop was reportedly printing campaign posters opposing the 18th amendment to the Sri Lankan constitution
A few hours later, around 3 am on September 8, a police party went to the residence of the printer, Jayampathy Bulathsinhala. Finding that he was not present, they arrested his wife and her two younger brothers. Bulathsinhala surrendered before the local police station a few hours later and was remanded in custody. His wife and her two brothers were released on bail that evening.
Bulathsinhala has said he was executing the print order for Sri Lanka’s main opposition, the United National Party (UNP). Mangala Samaraweera, a member of parliament and UNP media coordinator, informed police that the poster was meant for public display as legitimate campaign material, which was not against the law.
According to information from media and other sources, the arrests in Nugegoda cast a shadow over the debate in parliament that followed, when bitter partisanship reportedly dominated. Opposition members who chose to make a stand on issues of human rights, including the right to free speech, were vilified.
The 18th amendment reverses many of the democratic reforms promised under the 17th amendment, adopted in 2001 and never fully implemented.
IFJ affiliates in Sri Lanka have expressed concerns that the 18th amendment could have serious implications for media freedom, as it puts the power to appoint many of the autonomous oversight bodies envisaged for vital sectors of governance in the hands of the President.
“The raid on the premises of the printer and the mass arrests of staff speaks of a growing threat to the free speech right in Sri Lanka,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said
“This diminishes hopes for an improvement in the overall civil rights environment after the end of the country’s civil war in May 2009.
“The IFJ demands that the local police immediately discharge the printer, Jayampathy Bulathsinhala, and all the others who were wrongly arrested.”
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries