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One month of Gotabaya - abductions, assaults and intimidation

Just weeks into his tenure, journalists, activists and human rights defenders are increasingly fearful of Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government following incidents of journalist harassment; intimidation, interrogations and abductions across the island. 

Colombo has denied reports linked to many of these incidents, with government spokesperson Ramesh Pathirana denying state involvement in any intimidation of media personnel. "There is no reason for the government to carry out such activities,” he said. “These are baseless allegations.”

Earlier today Rajapaksa gave assurances of media freedom in an earlier statement and called for media to fulfil its obligation towards the country, by “engaging in favourable media reporting” to uphold the country’s reputation.

See below for a brief recap of some of the reported incidents in recent weeks.

 

S A Jothilingam

TamilNet reports that Jaffna-based political analyst and senior lawyer S A Jothilingam’s house was raided by a group of unidentified persons in the morning of Sunday 8th December. They ransacked the 64-year-old’s household but did not leave with any items of possessions except two smartphones that were used by the activist. Jothilingam earlier reported to the police that unknown personnel were ringing his bell and leaving swiftly when he answered the door. The police brushed off the claims just days before his house raided. Tamil journalists in Jaffna told TamilNet that this incident as the resurfacing of surveillance harassment and intimidation against grassroots activists in the North-East.   

See more from TamilNet here.

 

Maduka Fernando

Journalist Maduka Fernando of Lake House Media reported that he was assaulted by several members of the current government’s trade union members last Saturday. 

Fernando complained to the police that the assailant is the Chairman of the SLPP trade union, Pragathashili Sangamaya. Fernando adds that the Chairman was supported by Nuwan Kodikara Chandana Bandara, Gayan Bandara, Hemantha Depp and Chameera Elladeniya.

There is reported CCTV footage of the journalist being taken from the office of the Resa Newspaper by a number of persons. Fernando asserts that he was taken to a place not in the vicinity of CCTV cameras, where he was assaulted and threatened with a call not to return as a journalist to Lake House Media. Fernando has subsequently handed in his resignation.

See more here and from Colombo Telegraph here.

 

 

Chandana Ruwan Kumara

Mawanella Pradeshiya Sabha member, Chandana Ruwan Kumara states he was abducted when he approached council premises. He was released in the Hingula area after being threatened by the unidentified persons in Mawanella at around 12 noon on Tuesday. Mawanella Police arrested three people for their involvement and they were released on a surety bail of Rs. 100,000 each. 

See more from NewsFirst here.

 

Kadawatha journalists

A group of journalists who were covering an incident in Kadawatha were reportedly assaulted on Wednesday. Mahara Acting Magistrate Wasantha Ramayana remanded two suspects in relation to the incident. When the journalists went to inquire from a petrol station in Kadawatha about an alleged contamination of water with petrol they were obstructed and assaulted. 

See more from Colombo Page here.

 

Swiss embassy employee abduction

A Switzerland embassy employee in Sri Lanka was abducted, assaulted, molested and forced to disclose confidential information on Sri Lankans who have recently sought asylum in Switzerland.  The abduction has strained diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Sri Lanka, with the Swiss ambassador to the country meeting directly with prime minister Mahinda Rajapaksa to address the issue. The Sri Lankan government has disputed reports of the abduction presented by the Swiss, and called on the victim to be interviewed by Sri Lankan authorities.