The Sri Lankan security forces stopped and interrogated a group of 11 Tamil journalists travelling from Jaffna by road to a press workshop in Colombo on Friday evening for over six hours, before releasing the journalists and detaining the driver for further questioning.
Unidentified men, suspected to be military intelligence, followed the group as they travelled through Jaffna town in a hired private vehicle, sources in Jaffna told the Tamil Guardian.
Shortly after passing through Kilinochchi, the vehicle was stopped by police officers at Maankulam, who accused the occupants of failing to stop at the Elephant Pass check point.
Questioning the occupants, officers attempted to search the vehicle, only allowing the group to continue the journey after they had identified themselves as journalists and informed the police of the details of the workshop they were due to attend.
The check point and routine screening of vehicles at Elephant Pass stopped many months previously, locals told the Tamil Guardian.
Shortly after, two plain clothed police officers and three army personnel stopped the vehicle at the Oomanthai check point, interrogating the journalists and inspecting the vehicle once again, when one of the soldiers was seen placing a small bag under the driver seat of the vehicle, the journalists said.
As the group were due to depart again, police officers produced a parcel containing white powder from under the driver seat, and accused the driver and passenger of possessing cannabis. Calling more police officers from the local Oomanthai police station, officers detained all eleven journalists and driver.
The journalists were eventually released, following a dispute with the Officer in Charge where the journalists accused the soldiers of framing them, and warned they would reveal what they had witnessed. The driver was detained however, for further questioning.
The journalists, Venthan, G. Sabthasangari, Pontasa, Paskaran, Kajeepan, Hamsan, Nitharsan, Raveenthirarasa, Thayabaran, Parameswaran and Newman, known for their coverage of militarisation in the North-East and crimes by security forces, were travelling to a workshop arranged by a Colombo based media organisation together with a network of journalists based in Jaffna, the Jaffna Press Club (JPC), on digital security.
"Again the Oomanthai check post has proved that it can act as a brutal torture point, with the name of 'screening check post',” a journalist said, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal, and expressing concern at for the safety of the detained driver and the increasing trend of military personnel incriminating activists and media workers through setups.