CID enter house of Reuters photo journalist as telephone repairmen - FMM

[TamilNet, Sunday, 16 December 2007, 10:24 GMT]
Colombo based media watchdog, the Free Media Movement, on Sunday said it was disturbed to learn that officers of Criminal Investigation Division (CID) had entered the house of senior Reuters photojournalist Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi at Sarojinee Watta, Ratmalana at 11am on 11th December and questioned his wife at length about his activities in the manner that they would interrogate a suspect of a serious crime. The episode was aimed at instilling fear and anxiety in the mind of not just Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi but all journalists who investigate and report on the conflict in Sri Lanka, the FMM said.

Full text of the press release issued by the FMM follows:

In the guise of telephone repairmen, Police enter photojournalist’s residence

16th December 2007, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is disturbed to learn that officers of Criminal Investigation Division (CID) visited the residence of senior Reuters photojournalist Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi at Sarojinee Watta, Ratmalana at 11am on 11th December and questioned his wife. Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi was away covering a cricket match in Colombo. Disguised as telephone repairmen from the State telecoms provider Sri Lanka Telecom (SLT), they had questioned his wife at length about his activities in the manner that they would interrogate a suspect of a serious crime.

Saying that they were from SLT, the CID personnel had first inquired Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi’s full name from the gate and then insisted that they check his phone (landline) as they had a list of contacts in the North and East to whom they wished to ascertain whether calls had been made. No ID was shown. When they were informed that Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi worked at Reuters they pretended to not know about it. Probing questions were asked on the details of Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi’s family, his wife’s family and his parent’s family. We are informed that their chief interest was in how often and how recently Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi visited the embattled North and East of Sri Lanka. At the end of this de facto interrogation, one of them had shown their CID ID card and left.

The FMM finds this incredible behaviour of the CID yet another marker of the culture of impunity and lawlessness that State authorities act under to quell media freedom. The CID knew full well that Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi was not at home. Their questioning was meaningless and should they wished to know details of his work and travel, Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi is easily contactable.

We can only interpret this chilling behaviour of the CID to be directly aimed at instilling fear and anxiety in the mind of not just Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi but all journalists who investigate and report on the conflict in Sri Lanka in a manner that does not toe the line of official propaganda. We are also disturbed to note that Mr. Lokuhapuarachchi told the FMM that he feels his telephone conversations are being tapped of late.

Sadly, the intimidation of journalists in wartime is not new in Sri Lanka. What is disturbing today is the degree to which the Government, through its tacit support of these arbitrary actions of State authorities including the Military and Police, very gravely undermines media freedom and the freedom of expression.

The intimidation of journalists into silence is the mark of a totalitarian regime, the emergence of which in the South is cause for deep concern. The FMM deplores this incident and urgently calls upon the Government to respect the right of journalists to independently, accurately and impartially carry out their duties.

We also request the Government to make clear guidelines on questioning journalists in a manner that does not contravene their fundamental rights.

 

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