SRI LANKA: Eight online journalists and an office assistant freed but investigation continues
Reporters Without Borders is relieved that the eight SriLankaMirror and SriLankaXNews journalists and an office assistant arrested on 29 June were released the next day by Judge Kosala Senadheera of Colombo court No. 8 on the grounds that the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) had failed to produce evidence of actual wrongdoing.
According to an article on LankaeNews, an influential, trilingual news website based abroad, the judge ruled that no one can be arrested to prevent a crime that has not been committed.
The CID had said it raided the SriLankaMirror and SriLankaXNews offices in Colombo and arrested their journalists because they had published "false news" and because they had sent it to LankaeNews, which could have used it to defame the president and incite unrest.
Although the journalists have been released, they are still under investigation and the computer equipment that was taken from the SriLankaMirror journalists has still not been returned, preventing them from working normally. The computers are due to be produced in court at the next hearing, on 6 July.
The freed journalists have all decided to lodge complaints against the CID and the defence ministry for violating their fundamental rights by detaining them arbitrarily. Reporters Without Borders supports this initiative, which is needed to prevent such abuses from going unpunished. It also urges the authorities to close the investigation of the two sites, which were clearly targeted because of what they were reporting.
"The SriLankaMirror and SriLankaXNews journalists cannot be held responsible for the supposedly defamatory reports that might have been published on the basis of information they provided," Reporters Without Borders said. "Reporting news and information is a fundamental right and duty for all journalists and it is up to LankaeNews to evaluate whether or not the information it obtains is accurate."
LankaeNews has been hounded in recent years and reprisals against its journalists are increasing. Its Colombo premises were badly damaged in a January 2011 arson attack which the authorities blamed on its staff. Launched in 2005, it incurred the government's wrath when it supported Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the leading challenger to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the January 2010 presidential election.
Sri Lanka is ranked 163rd out of 179 countries in the 2011-2012 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. The situation for journalists continues to worsen although the civil war ended in 2009.