For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The Free Media Movement (FMM) expresses grave concern about the arrest and interrogation of a female journalist and two others by the Borella police in the early hours of Friday (June 10) morning and views the incident as yet another serious blow to the democratic right to free expression.
Journalist Sureka Samarasena and two others – Sampath Balasuriya and Aruna Premathilaka – were arrested by officers of the Borella police, at 2.00 a.m. Friday morning and interrogated for several hours until after dawn before being released. They were arrested while they were putting up posters at a demarcated spot outside Aquinas College in Borella, informing the general public about an open forum at the Public Library, Colombo, on June 13, to discuss several contentious issues causing unrest in the country. These include the salary issue of university academic staff; the proposed private sector pension scheme, the protest and its aftermath; and the leadership training by the military for university students.
The posters had been printed by a group identifying themselves as ‘Others’ (Anek Kattiya), a group that is not affiliated to any political party or organisation, and were being put up by the journalist and her two friends on special panels set up by the police, specifically for posters, when the arrest occurred. According to reports reaching the FMM, police officers had destroyed the posters that were already put up and seized the rest, charging the three were conspiring against the government.
While an individual’s right to free expression guaranteed in a democratic society, Article 14 of the Sri Lankan Constitution provides for freedom of speech and protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. The FMM believes the police action, in arresting the journalist and her friends who were exercising their democratic rights, destroying the posters already pasted and seizing the rest, is not only a serious violation of these rights but also abuse of power by those tasked with maintaining law and order in the country.
The FMM while unequivocally condemning the police action as politically motivated, believes the incident to be a serious threat to democratic freedoms, including the right to hold dissenting political beliefs, express views and opinions. In an environment where no serious effort is made to investigate the numerous incidents of media and human rights violations, FMM is concerned, incidents such as Friday’s arrest, interrogation and seizing of posters may increase and calls upon the government to ensure that individuals are given the freedom to exercise their constitutional rights and action be taken against police officers who violate these rights.
Sunil Jayasekara Hana Ibrahim