The editor of Eethalaya, Srilal Priyantha, has been interrogated for over four hours by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for his 2017 article on the 2009 murder of the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.
An attack on free media
According to media rights activists, this interrogation is the latest attempt by the government, “to harass and intimidate the media and ferret out their sources”. The Colombo Telegraph reports that “since the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in November 2019 journalists have regularly been brought in for questioning by the CID and news organizations have been raided by the police”. Following Rajapaksa’s appointment to the Presidency, a senior police officer who was involved in investigating the murder fled to seek asylum in Switzerland.
In January of this year, the International Press Institute criticised the Sri Lankan government for failing to investigate the murder of Sinhala journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge. Wickrematunge was a vocal critic of the Rajapaksa regime that was in power at the time, speaking out against corruption in the government as well as its war effort against the Tamils in the North-East, citing the numerous human rights abuses that had taken place.
According INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre rise in the repression of dissent in Sri Lanka during the month of May, which has disproportionately fallen on Tamils, particularly around Mullivaikkal remembrance events.
Read more here: Repression of dissent on the rise in Sri Lanka
The purpose of the interrogation
The Colombo Telegraph writes that Priyantha’s interrogation was linked to ongoing investigations into the former Director Sri Lankan Police, Shani Abeysekera and former CID ASP Tissera. The interrogation is seen as an attempt to bring charges against Abeysekera and Tissera for spilling official secrets to media personnel.
Shani Abeysekera had also been summoned for questioning to the CID on 13 July
The Colombo Telegraph reports that Priyantha was repeatedly questioned on his sources and the SIM cards used by Wickrematunge’s alleged killers
Priyantha article maintains that the alleged killers used SIM cards issued by Dialog GSM to communicate in the days leading up to the murder on 8 January 2009. He details that five SIM cards were used and were obtained under a Ministry of Defence letterhead. The letter was allegedly signed by then Chief of National Intelligence Kapila Hendawitharana.
Hendawitharana was reported to have direct Dialog to issue those SIM cards under a fake company with a fake address which the CID soon found was fake. The address listed, “88, Bauddhaloka Mawatha, Colombo 07”, is regularly used by the Directorate of Military Intelligence of the Sri Lanka Army for many covert operations, reports the Colombo Telegraph.
The Colombo Telegraph further reports that other SIM cards obtained by the Ministry of Defence, in the abduction of journalist Keith Noyahr in 2008, and the attack on Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon in 2009, were similar to those obtained from Wickrematunge’s alleged killers.
Read more from the Colombo Telegraph.