Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières) called today on the Sri Lankan government to swiftly investigate and punish those responsible for the harassment of a journalist who reported the alleged torture in custody of a woman by police officers in the north-western town of Wariyapola.
"The new government has substantially improved the press freedom situation, with fewer physical attacks on journalists and the abolition of the law on criminal defamation," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard in a letter to Interior Minister John Amaratunga. "But the impunity enjoyed by the police in the Wariyapola affair is a worrying step backwards."
The harassment of journalist, Nishanta Kumara, correspondent of the daily newspaper Ravaya, began on 10 July 2002 when three men, including a supporter of the ruling United National Party (UNP) called Sunil, attacked him in a bus. They threatened him with a knife and one of them asked if he was "the human rights dog who’s trying to send my brother-in-law to prison."
One of the men was about to stab him when the bus driver saw what was happening and stopped the bus, allowing the journalist to escape. Mr Kumara continues to fear for his life as he has been followed every day since 19 August by two men on an unmarked red motor-cycle.
The journalist has filed two complaints (on 10 July and 5 September) with the inspector-general of police in Colombo, the police in Kurunegala and the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission, but no investigations appear to have been started to date.
Mr Kumara’s article reported the plight of a 39-year-old woman, Nandani Herat, who was allegedly tortured by police while she was being held for questioning at the police station in Wariyapola.
Other journalists have been subjected to police intimidation while covering the trials of Ms Herat and of the police officers accused of torturing her. A crew of the independent TV station Swarnawahini was barred from the courtroom in Wariyapola. After going outside and filming from their vehicle, and the latter was searched by some of the 25 police officers in civil clothes present in front of the Courts. The journalists were threatened with arrest and were followed by a blue van when they left the scene.
Lastly, Reporters Without Borders asked the Minister to ensure the safety and access of journalists to the next hearing of the case, scheduled on 13 September.