The Batticaloa District Tamil Journalists Association has written a letter to Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa demanding to ensure press freedom in the island.
This comes following the Terrorism Investigation Department’s (TID) interrogation of Selvakumar Nilanthan, a journalist based in Batticaloa.
The subject line of the letter read, “Stop suppression of journalism! Ensure protection of journalists!!”
The letter started by explaining the circumstances of the investigation of Nilanthan.
“Incidents threatening journalists who bring out the truth about undemocratic events, which are rising in Sri Lanka day by day, are increasing alarmingly,” it said.
“On 12th July, the Secretary of our Association, Selvakumar Nilanthan, was taken to Kallady and was subjected to an investigation for three hours by the Terrorism Investigation Department (TID).
“In the investigation, he was asked many questions which would endanger his future career and his answers have been recorded as statements. Particularly, they (TID) demanded and obtained access to our Secretary’s bank, email, facebook and whatsapp accounts. They also demanded that he reveal the password to those accounts,” the letter emphasised.
“They have also asked him whether he has any connections to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) or whether he or his family members were supporters or former members of the organisation.”
The letter went on to enumerate a host of other questions that the TID asked Nilanthan during the interrogation. It included questions related to his bank account and whether he received money from abroad. Furthermore, it also noted that such intense repression of the press would harm the freedom of the press on the island.
“This act has conveyed a message of intimidation to Nilanthan’s commitment to journalism and his personal life,” it noted.
The Association then catalogued similar incidents in the past that threatened press freedom in Batticaloa.
“In a similar case our Association’s treasurer Punniyamoorthy Sasitharan was also summoned to interrogations by the police several times. Six months ago, the freelance journalist Suyatheen was detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and he still remains under detention. In January 2020, pamphlets were issued threatening death to seven of us journalists. Similarly, in 2016, our Association’s President Valasingham Krishnakumar was summoned by the Department and subjected to an investigation in Colombo,” the letter listed.
“This repeated targeted attacks against journalists who belong to our Association has inspired a great suspicion in us. It is suspicious whether Batticaloa journalists will be subjected to arrests under the PTA,” the Association stressed.
The letter then appealed to Rajapaksa to put a stop to the growing number of attacks and interrogations targeting journalists.
“Therefore, we request honourable President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to pay attention to this issue, halt the investigations pursued against journalists and protect our Association and the journalists who form a part of it,” the Association said.
It ended the letter by asking Rajapaksa to “...ensure a situation where journalists can operate freely.”