Responding to the Sri Lankan government’s brutal crackdown on press freedom, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has condemned the “constant attempts to intimidate Tamil media personal” and called “for an end to the use of illegal and abusive methods that dangerously undermine press freedom”.
“The constant harassment of Tamil journalists is unacceptable and constitutes a major encroachment on press freedom,” RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk said. They added:
“The security forces must stop hounding any journalist who, directly or indirectly, broaches the Tamil issue.”
The statement highlighted how Sri Lanka’s security forces exploited the charge of terrorism to hound journalists, Balasingham Krishnakumar and Selvakumar Nilanthan, both based in the eastern city of Batticaloa. Nilanthan is a journalist for the Tamil Guardian.
The RSF notes that Nilanthan is frequently subject to a judicial summons and interrogated by Sri Lanka’s CTID. He was last interrogated whilst covering anti-government demonstrations in February when he was accused of “inciting separatism on social media” and “attempting to revive the LTTE”.
In July 2021, he was also subject to an interrogation for over three hours, where he was forced to give access to not only his Facebook and WhatsApp accounts but also his email and bank accounts.
The RSF further details how Nilanthan has been subject to these interrogations for his critical reporting on military support for Sinhala encroachment on Tamil land.
“In November 2020, the police questioned him about his coverage of military support for Sinhalese settlements on land used by Tamil cattle farmers. And a few months before that, the CTID brought charges against him in connection his coverage of alleged local government corruption in Chenkalady, a town near Batticaloa” they write.
The RSF also highlight the case of Murugupillai Kokulathasan, a Tamil journalist jailed for 15 months, from November 2020 to March 2022, over a Facebook post about an event commemorating the victims of the civil war. In this case the Sri Lankan government used the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain Kokulathasan for allegedly posting photos of farmer LTTE cadre.