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Sri Lanka arrests, investigates journalists G.P. Nissanka, Bimal Ruhunage

Image: Following a report alleging corruption on the part of Sri Lanka Army Commander Vikum Liyanage, seen here at a ceremony in May 2022, journalist G.P. Nissanka, owner and editor of the news site Ravana Lanka News, was arrested. (Photo: CPJ: AFP/ Ishara S. Kodikara)

On the evening of March 5, officers with the Sri Lanka police service’s Criminal Investigation Department arrested G.P. Nissanka, owner and editor of the news site Ravana Lanka News, from his home in the Pallebedda area of the southern Sabaragamuwa Province, according to news reports and the Media Organizations Collective, a group of Sri Lankan organizations advocating for press freedom and freedom of expression.

Amila Egodamahawatta, Nissanka’s lawyer, told CPJ that the journalist was held in police remand until he was released on bail March 20. His mobile phone, seized during his arrest, remains in police custody as of Friday, Egodamahawatta said.

Nissanka’s arrest followed a complaint by Vikum Liyanage, commander of the Sri Lankan army, after Ravana Lanka News published an article accusing the commander of corruption and malfeasance.

Separately, on March 6, police arrested freelance journalist Bimal Ruhunage from his home in the Kurunegala district of North Western Province, according to the Media Organizations Collective statement, as well as the journalist and his lawyer Keerthi Dunusinghe, who spoke to CPJ.

Police also seized Ruhunage’s mobile phone and wallet, which were returned to his wife later that day, the journalist said.

Ruhunage said he arrived at a local bus station four days prior, wearing his press identification card, to interview a mother seeking to give her child up for adoption. However, a police officer attempted to stop the journalist from filming them. Ruhunage continued to film as the officer took the mother and child to a police station in a three-wheeler taxi, footage of which was published by the U.S.-based news website Boston Lanka.

Following his arrest, Ruhunage was held in police remand until March 11, when he was released on bail, according to the journalist and his lawyer. Ruhunage has been ordered to appear in court on May 13.

“The arrests and criminal investigations launched into Sri Lankan journalists G.P. Nissanka and Bimal Ruhunage are unacceptable reactions by authorities and could create a chilling effect on the media,” said CPJ Program Director Carlos Martinez de la Serna. “Sri Lankan journalists should not fear detention, seizure of their devices, or criminal cases for their work ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections to be held later this year.”

Egodamahawatta and Dunusinghe told CPJ that their clients were remanded into police custody despite being investigated for bailable offenses.

Nissanka stands accused of violating section 6 of the Computer Crime Act related to offenses committed against national security and a section of the police ordinance related to spreading false reports to create alarm and panic, Egodamahawatta said.

CPJ

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