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Sri Lanka 22 March 2007

Court frees young woman journalist who had been held for four months

(JPEG) Reporters Without Borders hailed the release today of Munusamy Parameshawary of the Sinhalese-language weekly Mawbima, who had been held since 26 November under an anti-terrorism law. The Colombo supreme court ruled yesterday that there was insufficient evidence against her and ordered her release.

“We are relieved that Parameshawary has been set free but we condemn the fact that she was held for four months without evidence,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is worth reminding the government after this ruling that Dushantha Basnayake, the financial director of Standard Newspapers Private Limited (SNPL), the group that publishes Mawbima, is also being held under this anti-terrorism law. He should be freed at once.”

Aged 23, Parameshawary was alleged to have been in contact with a Tamil Tiger member who had come to the capital on a suicide mission. Anti-terrorist investigators fabricated other accusations against her after her arrest. Three Sinhalese newspapers, for example, ran front-page reports that her confession had enabled the anti-terrorist department to recover 10 kg of explosives and mines. It later turned out that officials made up this story and fed it to the media.

The Free Media Movement said Parameshawary was the unfortunate victim of a hate campaign orchestrated by certain government members, media and ultra-nationalists who spread mendacious allegations with the aim of manipulating public opinion.


Government freezes weekly Mawbima’s assets

Reporters Without Borders condemns the government’s decision to freeze the assets of CBE, a company owned by Tiran Alles which owns the Sinhalese-language weekly Mawbima. Coming after the arrests of two of Mawbima’s employees, it has forced the newspaper to suspend operations. CBE’s assets were frozen on 8 and 9 March. The assets of Standard Newspapers Private Ltd were also frozen yesterday.


Weekly paper executive arrested under anti-terror law

Reporters Without Borders has condemned the Sri Lankan security forces’ improper use of the anti-terror law to arrest people working for the media.

Dushantha Basnayake, financial director of Standard Newspapers Private Limited (SNPL), which publishes the Sinhalese-language weekly Mawbima, was arrested in the capital Colombo on 26 February 2007.

Officers of the Terrorist investigation Division (TID) went to Basnayake’s office at around 6pm and began questioning him. After four hours of interrogation, the officers apparently received a call from a high ranking defence ministry official ordering them to put him under arrest.

Dushantha Basnayake, aged 40 and the father of two children, is Sinhalese. The weekly Mawbima has a reputation for criticising the government and for condemning human rights abuses and corruption in Sri Lanka.

It is the second time that the government has acted against the weekly. Young Tamil journalist on the paper, Munusamy Parameshawary, has been held by the TID under the anti-terror law since November 2006.

Despite threats and repeated visits from tax inspectors, the newspaper has not changed its editorial line.

“The anti-terrorism laws are designed for the arrest of terrorists, not journalists or opposition figures,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. The arrest of Dushantha Basnayake, who is close to a political adversary of President Mahinda Rajapakse, looks above all like retaliation.”

“The fears of human rights organisations have unfortunately turned out to be well-founded: The anti-terror law is being misused to silence critics. We call on the Sri Lankan government to release Dushantha Basnayake”, it concluded.

On 24 February 2007, President Rajapakse and his brother Gotabaya Rajapakse, the Defence Secretary, urged TV channels to put out a programme in which they accused Mawbima, as well as its owner Tiran Alles, of being a spokesman for the Tamil Tigers. The head of state and his entourage have also accused former ministers Sripathi Sooyaaracchi and Mangala Samaraweera, linked with Tiran Alles, of using the newspaper to plot against him. The two former ministers were recently sacked from the government for having spoken out against human rights violations.

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