FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

CID cites ‘giving news to banned sites’ re Lanka mirror arrests

The arrest of nine persons attached to websites, Sri Lanka Mirror and LankaXnews last Friday by the CID under Article 120 of the Penal Code has once again raiseda hornet’s nest over media issues. Article 120 refers to ‘exciting or attempting to excite disaffection among the people.’
Although the nine persons, of whom seven are journalists, were released by the Colombo Magistrate on Saturday – seven computers confiscated by the CID are to be sent to the Computer Department of Colombo University to extract all data.
Speaking to LAKBIMAnEWS on condition of anonymity a journalist attached to LankaXnews said that around 25 CID officers came to the Sri Lanka Mirror and LankaXnews office premises located at Ethul Kotte around 11.30 am on Friday under the pretence of inspecting the place for dengue breeding sites.
“There was a knock on the door and when the office assistant went to the door she was told that they came to inspect the place for dengue breeding sites. When she opened the door, they rushed in from all corners of the garden,” he said.
The officers asked Sri Lanka Mirror staffers who use the ground floor of the two storey building to stand up, leaving mobile phones on their desks. After a while they came to the LankaXnews office upstairs and followed the same procedure with the two staffers present.
“When I asked as to who they were, they said they are from the CID and that they have a search warrant. So we complied. We told them that we are using a room in the office temporarily as our permanent office is in Siri Kotha, that Xnews is the official site of the United National Party (UNP), and we asked  them the purpose of the raid. They said that they believe we are providing news stories to several banned websites including Lankaenews,” said the Xnews journalist.
After a careful search of the premise where every item was noted down, the CID officers had said that they will be arresting everyone present in the office. After a brief argument with the CID officers all nine individuals (and seven computers) were taken to the CID headquarters where each person was grilled individually about their activities, and the alleged connection with banned websites.
“We felt that they were going to detain us for a few days. However we think that they changed their minds due to growing pressure applied by the media, human rights groups, political parties and foreign embassies,” he said.
The lady who worked as an office assistant was released on Friday night while the remaining eight were brought to the Colombo Magistrate’s Court on Saturday morning.“The judge asked whether they have any proof of us inciting ‘discontent or disaffection amongst’ the people and the CID replied that our actions ‘could’ lead to that. The judge ignored that line of thinking and granted us bail. We will have to appear in court again on July 6,” he said.
He added that they believe that this was an attempt to intimidate them and find a reason to arrest Ruwan Ferdinandez, a close confidante of MP Mangala Samaraweera. CID or police sources were unavailable at time of going to press, for comment.

By Rathindra Kuruwita
LB

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