In the latest case of judicial harassment of Tamil journalists in Sri Lanka, two reporters are to be interrogated on suspicion of “terrorism” in the next few days. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the constant attempts to intimidate Tamil media personnel and calls 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. “We call on Sri Lanka’s new president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, to undertake to put a stop to the arbitrary use of ‘terrorism’ accusations. The security forces must stop hounding any journalist who, directly or indirectly, broaches the Tamil issue.”
In the latest example of “terrorism” charges being used at will, two journalists based in the eastern city of Batticaloa, Balasingham Krishnakumar and Selvakumar Nilanthan, have been ordered to report to the headquarters of the Counter-Terrorism Investigation Division (CTID) in the capital, Colombo, on 14 September for questioning about their alleged support for the former Tamil armed separatist group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Both Krishnakumar and Nilanthan are active press freedom defenders in Batticaloa and both are Tamils – members of a mainly Hindu ethnic minority in a country dominated by mainly Buddhist Sinhalese. The authorities accuse them of trying to revive the conflict between these two ethnic communities that led to a civil war from 1983 to 2009.
Forced to surrender access to his bank account
Nilanthan, who works for the Tamil Guardian newspaper, is one of those Tamil journalists who are used to getting judicial summonses and he has been questioned by the CTID on several occasions in the past. He was last interrogated after covering the anti-government protests taking place throughout the country in February, when he was accused of “inciting separatism on social media” and “attempting to revive the LTTE.”
In July 2021, he was interrogated for more than three hours by the police in Batticaloa, who made him give them access to not only his Facebook and WhatsApp accounts but also his email and bank accounts.
His outspoken reporting style and the subjects he covers are clearly not to the liking of the government in Colombo. 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.
Jailed for a Facebook post
Tamil journalists are harassed by the authorities above all for covering the fact that, although the civil war ended in a crushing defeat for the Tamil Tigers, discrimination and violence against the Tamil minority has continued in Sri Lanka.
The victims have also included Murugupillai Kokulathasan, a journalist who was jailed for 15 months, from November 2020 to March 2022, over a Facebook post about an event commemorating the victims of the civil war. The authorities charged him under the Prevention of Terrorism Act with allegedly posting photos of LTTE fighters.
Sri Lanka is ranked 146th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index.
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