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Sri Lanka 7 February 2007

Army accuses three journalists of “terrorism”

Army spokesman Prasad Samarasinghe produced evidence at a press conference in Colombo on 6 February implicating three journalists and trade union activists in planning terrorist acts. Nihal Serasinghe, Lalith Seneviratne and Sisira Priyankara were also accused of collusion with the Tamil Tigers and one officer said they had already carried out attacks but which did not result in casualties.

Journalists were shown videotape of the three activists confessing their “crimes”. Each of them in turn appeared on a clip lasting more than seven minutes in which they described planned terror attacks. All three, who appeared visibly under heavy pressure, also explained their military training with the Tamil Tigers. The army spokesman told the press that the “traitors” were being held by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in the interests of the investigation.

“Confessions recorded in an unknown place by unknown people after arrests that look more like kidnapping have no legal validity,” said Reporters Without Borders. “Police must immediately bring the three journalists before a judge so their testimony can be heard in normal conditions. If the three men are genuinely implicated in the planning of terrorist attacks, they should be tried under the law. If they have been forced to confess under threat, they should immediately be released,” the organisation added.

Reporters Without Borders also pointed out that Munusamy Parameshawary, 23, a journalist on the Sinhalese weekly Mawbima, has been held under the anti-terror law for more than 60 days. The anti-terror division has said, but without producing any evidence, that she was in contact with a member of the LTTE on a suicide mission in the capital. She wrote regular articles about the Tamil community in the capital and also about unexplained disappearances.


Kidnap of three journalists with trade union monthly

Reporters Without Borders urged President Mahinda Rajapaksa to give unequivocal orders for three journalists and trade union activists, kidnapped in Colombo on 5 February, to be found and released unharmed.

The three, all working for the trade union monthly Akuna (The Thunder), linked to the train drivers union, were all snatched in the space of six hours from different locations in the capital. Nihal Serasinghe, formerly of the extreme-left monthly Diyesa and a contributor to Akuna, was abducted near the Fort in Colombo as he left a printing office. Lalith Seneviratne, a former journalist on the far-left Hiru, in charge of page layout at Akuna, was seized at his home by men whom his wife identified as plain-clothes police officers from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). She made a complaint at a police station in Aturugiriya. Editor of Akuna, Sisira Priyankara, 38, was snatched at his workplace, a rail company electricians’ workshop. He was recently involved in complaints made to courts by trade unionists against salary hikes granted to minister and the president.

"Any journalist, trade unionist, human rights activist or politician who backs a peaceful solution to the conflict, has become a potential target for these well-organised groups of kidnappers who infest the north, the northeast and also the capital," the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

"Since the murder of Tamil journalist Dharmaratnam Sivaram in Colombo in 2005, it has been clear that these death squads can strike at will wherever and whenever they want. We urge the head of state to mobilise the security forces to find and free these three journalists as quickly as possible".

The kidnappings came just after dozens of countries meeting on 6 February in Paris had just signed the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted by Sri Lanka.

The Free media Movement (FMM) held a demonstration in Colombo on 6 February in protest against the kidnappings.

This triple kidnapping comes a few weeks after a group of militants headed by Mervyn Silva, deputy minister of labour, attacked a pacifist meeting in the Colombo suburbs, inciting his supporters to beat the participants. Journalists, including a BBC correspondent covering the meeting, were among those assaulted.

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