A freelance journalist for a Tamil-language daily in Sri Lanka has been charged in connection with a story he wrote that criticised the police, according to news reports and the paper’s editor, who spoke to the Committee to Protect Journalists.
N. Logathayalan, a freelancer for Uthayan, was detained on Wednesday in connection with a story he wrote for the paper that alleged a girl had been assaulted by police in the Nelliyadi police station in Jaffna city, in the north of the country, according to news reports. Police denied the story, the paper’s editor, Prem Anand, told CPJ. Anand told CPJ that Uthayan stood by the story.
Logathayalan was released on bail today, news reports said. Anand told CPJ that he believed the charges against Logathayalan are “defamation of the police department.” The local Sunday Times reported that Logathayalan was charged in connection with “providing false information for the publication of a news item,” but did not cite its source. The journalist’s next court date is scheduled for May 29, Anand said.
The Jaffna peninsula is home to much of Sri Lanka’s Tamil ethnic minority. The area was hit hard by the country’s decades-long conflict between Tamils and the majority Sinhalese population and remains under heavy military control.
“Arresting a reporter is an inappropriate response if the police in Jaffna feel they have been harmed by a news report,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “It seems the heavy-handed habits developed during Sri Lanka’s internal conflict over so many years have left authorities with the tendency to overreact to criticism.”
In January, President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s administration replaced the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, under which media freedoms in Sri Lanka were heavily and often brutally curtailed, CPJ research shows.
Anand told CPJ that journalists at Uthayan “do not feel terribly free. The police and other security institutions are still not willing to give us the space we need to do our job as reporters.”