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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Human rights defender and journalist Tharindu Jayawardhana interrogated by the Cyber Crimes Investigation Division – Frontline Defenders

Image: The post, police wanted to investigate includes images of police officers using disproportionate force and disrupting peaceful protesters during a protest in Colombo on 9 October 2022.

On 14 November 2022, human rights defender and journalist Tharindu Jayawardhana was questioned by the Cyber Crimes Investigation Division (CCID) for nearly 6 hours at the Criminal Investigation Department in Colombo.

The CCID officer told Tharindu Jayawardhana that he was summoned to record a statement based on a complaint lodged by the Inspector General of Police on 27 October 2022 regarding a Facebook post. The post includes images of police officers using disproportionate force and disrupting peaceful protesters during a protest in Colombo on 9 October 2022.

The officer asked the human rights defender for personal and profession details. The officer questioned him about the Sri Lanka Young Journalists Association (SLYJA), its structure, and the selection criteria to become a member. He also asked Tharindu Jayawardhana about the SLYJA official Facebook account and to provide details of the administrators, including the information on how many of them have access to the account. Jayawardhana refused to give the names of the admins but mentioned the number of accounts who have access to edit and post content. In addition to this, he was also asked about medialk.com news website and details regarding its registration.

The CCID officer asked whether Tharindu Jayawardhana has any personal vengeance towards the police in general or any other motive. Tharindu Jayawardhana responded by saying that it was his journalistic duty to point out the unruly behavior of the police officers towards peaceful demonstrators and that there were no further motives behind his post and no personal vengeance towards any of the police officers mentioned in his post. He also told the officer that he himself had lodged several complaints on behalf of police officers in the cases where they faced injustices, and the post was created to seek public support to identify 8 policemen who behaved illegally on 9 October 2022.

The human rights defender also pointed out the statements issued by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), where it has been stated that the Police Ordinance should not be used to violate the Constitution’s fundamental rights. The human rights defender was not informed of further proceedings in the investigation against him.

Human rights defender and journalist Tharindu Jayawardhana summoned for inquiry

On 8 November 2022, Sri Lankan journalist, media rights campaigner and human rights defender Tharindu Jayawardhana received a call asking him to appear at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Colombo for an inquiry on 14 November 2022. The human rights defender was informed that the inquiry is based on a complaint filed by the Inspector General of Police (IGP) regarding a Facebook post published by him on 17 October 2022.

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Tharindu Jayawardhana is a respected investigative journalist and a dedicated human rights defender. He is the president of the Sri Lanka Young Journalist Association (SLYJA) and the chief editor of MediaLK, an investigative news website. He also works as a researcher at the Centre for Society and Religion(CSR). As a journalist and human rights defender, Tharindu Jayawardhana has been an advocate for the rights of oppressed and vulnerable communities and against state violence.

On 8 November 2022, Tharindu Jayawardhana received summons via a phone call from a police officer requesting him to appear at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) for an inquiry, on 9 November 2022. Tharindu Jayawardhana expressed he could not be present on that day and agreed to appear at 9.30am on 14 November 2022. The human rights defender was informed that the inquiry was based on a complaint filed by the IGP regarding a Facebook post published by him on 17 October 2022. The post included images of police officers using disproportionate force and disrupting peaceful protesters in Colombo on 9 October 2022 and sought public assistance to identify and report officers. Similar summons was issued to journalist/human rights defender Tharindu Uduwaragedara linked to the same Facebook post.

Tharindu Jayawardhana was targeted several times in the past for his human rights work and reporting. In June 2021, he received a death threat via Facebook from Senior Deputy Inspector General of Police Deshabandu Tennakoon. Over a year later, on 9 August 2022, the human rights defender was summoned to the CID Head Quarters in Colombo to make a statement regarding the death threats made against him by Senior DIG Deshabandu Thennakoon.

Tharindu Jayawardhana has exposed police torture, and torture chambers such as in the ‘Kotadeniyawa case’ in October 2015, used by the Kotadeniyawa police against citizens. Since the inception of protests in 2022 linked to the economic crisis, Tharindu Jayawardhana has been reporting on peaceful protests, disproportionate use of force by police and reprisals against protesters. He has used his social media accounts to challenge disinformation against protesters and expose state violence. He is a key campaigner against the ongoing detention of student leaders Wasantha Mudalige and Siridhamma Thero under the Draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act in 2022 linked to their role in the protests. In September 2022, Tharindhu Jayawardhana used the Right to Information (RTI) act to seek information regarding the alleged use of expired tear gas by the Sri Lankan police used against protesters. Despite interventions by the RTI commission, the police denied providing information citing national security and integrity.

Front Line Defenders condemns the attempts to threaten and intimidate Tharindu Jayawardhana by Sri Lanka police and the state intelligence as reprisal for his legitimate journalism and peaceful human rights work. All citizens, and especially journalists and human rights defenders, must be protected from reprisals when carrying out peaceful protests and expressing legitimate dissent against Government policies. Front Line Defenders urges the Sri Lankan authorities to stop all reprisals against journalists and human rights defenders voicing against injustices. It also urges them to create an environment that protects human rights defenders.

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