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Attacks on human rights organisations, media organisations and journalists in Sri Lanka – AI

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Amnesty International is concerned by multiple reports of harassment, intimidation and attacks on human rights organisations, media outlets, and journalists in Sri Lanka. Amnesty International has received reports that the authorities carried out more than a dozen unscheduled visits to human rights and media organisations between May 2019 and January 2020 that were seen as acts of harassment and intimidation. The targets included human rights organisations, and media outlets, who said they were questioned about their activities by members of the Sri Lankan Police, including the Criminal Investigation Department and the Terrorism Investigation Division, as well as State Intelligence.

Attacks against journalists According to media reports1 , a journalist attached to a local daily Lankadeepa, and his family, were attacked on 6 December in Aluthgama, in the South of Sri Lanka. The suspected perpetrators allegedly demanded that the journalist stops reporting around alleged illegal manufacture and trade in toddy. Local media also reported2 that on 10 December, the former head of Lake House (also known as Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.) New Media Division was assaulted by a group of individuals with ties to the ruling political party. He was allegedly3 threatened not to return to the media-house, which is owned by the government of Sri Lanka.

Harassment and intimidation of human rights organizations
At least twelve cases recorded by Amnesty International indicate that the Sri Lanka Police, including the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) also known as Counter-Terrorism and Terrorism investigation Division (CTID), as well as officials with State Intelligence, have visited the premises of, or summoned members of human rights organizations, making enquiries around project activities, donors and funding information, registration, and details of staff members.

The reports indicate that such visits have occurred for several months over 2019, spilling into 2020, in different parts of the country including in the Northern, Eastern and Western Provinces on an ad-hoc and arbitrary basis since May, however more systematically particularly in the Western Province since November 2019. This trend of information gathering by different law enforcement agencies serve as a form of harassment and intimidation4 , and must be seen in the context of attacks, surveillance and harassment of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) that Amnesty International has documented as having occurred intermittently for several years.5 Such harassment and intimidation has a chilling effect by way of suppressing dissent, creating fear in organizations and individuals defending and promoting human rights about the start of a crackdown, and may amount to reprisals for their work.

Sri Lanka has an international obligation to protect HRDs under a number of international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which it is a state party. The Covenant guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression.

Search of media outlets and summons on journalists
Media reported6 that on 26 November, the Police conducted a search of Newshub.lk, a media organization, using an expired search warrant7 . The police reportedly searched the organization’s electronic equipment and servers for defamatory content on the new President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. 8 Two journalists with TheLeader.lk and Voicetube.lk were summoned to the CID in November and questioned
at length.9 The Editor of Thinnapuyal was also reportedly10 questioned by the Police in November in Vavuniya in the Northern Province The Police searches and summons of media organizations and journalists, especially in the immediate aftermath of Presidential elections, amount to curtailment of the right to freedom of expression and media freedom11 guaranteed under the ICCPR.

For foot notes please see here : ASA3716782020ENGLISH

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