For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
6th April 2011
On 24th March, the undersigned individuals issued a statement calling for urgent interventions to ensure the safety and security of the staff of the Lanka e-News website, including from imminent arrest.
The arrest, on 31st March, of Mr. Bennet Rupesinghe, senior journalist and news editor of Lanka e-News, has reaffirmed our fears.
Following extensive inquiries made by us, we have learned that Mr. Rupesinghe was taken into custody on the morning of 31st March 2011, when he reported to the Wellampitiya police as requested by the Officer in Charge of that Police Station. Mr. Rupesinghe was questioned for upto 3 hours, most particularly regarding phone calls made from and received by him on his mobile phone. Mr. Rupesinghe has denied making any threatening calls to anyone, as alleged by the Police. As a news editor of a news website, Mr. Rupesinghe receives and responds to numerous calls throughout the day, returns missed calls and have no specific recollection of a suspicious call from a particular number. Mr. Rupesinghe was remanded by the Kaduwela Magistrate till 7th April, and is presently detained at the Welikada prison in Colombo. Mr. Rupesinghe is 68 years old, and suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure.
Since the attack on the Lanka e-News office on 31st January this year, members of the staff have expressed concern regarding the lack of a credible investigation by the local police. They also fear that there is a plan to implicate them (particularly journalists, Bennet Rupesinghe, Shantha Wijesooriya and Sanjaya Dassanayake) in the attack on the e-News office. A series of articles in the state media has contained defamatory and false information regarding the attack has led e-News journalists, Sanjaya Dassnayake and Shantha Wijesooriya, to fear that they too may be arrested and detained on false charges, including for engaging in ‘unlawful activities’, a charge on which they could be detained indefinitely under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
In a context in which suppression of media freedom and persecution of journalists and human rights defenders has become commonplace in Sri Lanka, we urge all defenders of democracy and human rights in Sri Lanka to maintain vigilance with regard to the above situation.
We also call for an independent and credible investigation into the arson attack on the Lanka e-news office in January 2011 without a predetermined aim of implicating e-News staff as being responsible for this incident, for guarantees of the safety and security of the staff members of the website and their families and associates and for the immediate release of Mr. Bennet Rupesinghe.
Sunil Jayasekera, Convener, Free Media Movement
Udaya Kalupathirana, Program Coordinator, INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre
Ruki Fernando, Head, Human Rights in Conflict Programme, Law & Society Trust