Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and three other international human rights groups condemned the Sri Lankan police authorities’ assault on journalist Dharisha Bastians and stated they should immediately stop the “targeting, intimidating and harassing” and ensure Bastians’ safety.
In a joint statement released yesterday, co-signed by; The Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Front Line Defenders, they denounced the persecution of Bastians as an assault “on human rights and press freedom in Sri Lanka and that she is being “targeted due to her work as a professional journalist and human rights defender.”
A New York Times contributor and a former editor of the Sunday Observer, Bastians’ work in Sri Lanka was highlighted in the statement;
“Bastians has written extensively on human rights, militarization, corruption, religious freedom, democracy, and political rights in Sri Lanka. Her writing has consistently highlighted the struggles of people targeted by successive governments, especially religious and ethnic minorities.”
Bastians’ work has previously also made her and her family the target of attacks. She has highlighted the Sri Lankan states’ failings and state officials’ crimes on numerous occasions;
“She has written about the families of the forcibly disappeared in Sri Lanka and their struggle for truth and accountability. Most notably, Bastians covered the “Navy Abduction Case,” in which the navy allegedly abducted 11 young men for extortion in 2008. The case implicates high-ranking naval officers.
In July 2018, she and her family members were extensively threatened for her coverage on the Hambanthota Harbour investment;
“Supporters of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, including members of his family, denounced her and threatened legal action against her following an article she contributed to concerning Chinese investment in the Hambanthota Harbour in southern Sri Lanka and payments made by Chinese companies to former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s campaign fund.”
Bastians, is currently a target of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) as well as the Sri Lankan authorities;
“Bastians is being targeted by the CID in its investigation into what the Sri Lankan government maintains is a false claim of abduction by an employee of the Swiss Embassy. Swiss officials assert that the incident took place.
Since December 2019, the CID has tried to link Bastians, and several others, to an inquiry into the alleged false accusation by the Swiss employee, seemingly attempting to prove some form of conspiracy. Pro-government media have conducted a campaign against Bastians and her family, supported by attacks on social media, labelling her a traitor and criminal.
After twice attempting to seize her personal laptop computer without a warrant, CID officers entered Bastians’ residence in Colombo on June 9, 2020 with a warrant, searched the premises and her personal belongings, and seized the computer. Law enforcement officers have repeatedly targeted her colleagues, associates, and family members in Sri Lanka.”
Bastians took to Twitter to make a statement that the CID obtained her call records “without a court order” during this investigation. She claimed these records were “scrutinized” and the information “subsequently exposed”, which, she said, “could seriously endanger and compromise my sources and contacts, then, now and in the future.”
Bastians’ statement was concerned about the potential the collected evidence can be manipulated by the Sri Lankan authorities;
“While offering to cooperate with investigation efforts, she stressed that she remains 'gravely concerned about potential efforts by interested parties to compromise the integrity' of the seized electronic material and devices.”
The statement underlined the Colombo Chief Magistrate’s order on June 16th to get a government analyst to “inspect the device to ascertain if any alterations had been made between June 4 and June 16, when the laptop was produced in court.”
The next court hearing on the matter is scheduled for July 21.
Read the full statement from Amnesty here.