Authorities say they didn’t know persons arrested in Omanthai were journalists

Authorities say they didn’t know persons arrested in Omanthai were journalists

Written by Bella Dalima

26 Jul, 2014 | 10:21 pm

A group of journalist charge that the police attempted to arrest them while they were returning to Colombo from Jaffna.They claim that they were detained at the Omanthai Police Station for nearly six hours.

Seven journalists who travelled to Jaffna from Colombo for a workshop were questioned in this manner. They charge that they were detained at the Omanthai Police Station on Friday night and had to remain at the station till Saturday morning.

The journalists state that they were taken to the police station on claims that marijuana was present in the vehicle in which they were travelling. They claim that the marijuana was planted by a soldier who was searching the van at the Omanthai checkpoint.

The journalists went on to state that although they attempted to lodge a complaint in this regard with the Omanthai Police, their complaint was rejected.

Director of Media Centre, Ministry of Defence and Urban Development Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya expressed these views:

[quote]An individuals who came in a bus to the Omanthai checkpoint had given a tip-off that heroin was being transported. When we were searching a van that came along ten minutes afterwards the police found packets of marijuana. The passengers were interrogated at the Omanthai Police Station. We detained the vehicle and its driver and released the seven passengers. Unfortunately, a team of journalists had been traveling in this van. We did not stop the van because there were journalists in it; we had no knowledge of it .[/quote]

The journalists in question staged a protest opposite the Omanthai Police Station. Convenor of Free Media Movement Sunil Jayasekara shared these views:

[quote]I received a phone call from a number to which I could not return a call. They clearly stated that I would not be allowed to live if we go ahead with this media briefing. We know about the threats that have been levelled against groups that stand up for the democratic and civil rights of the public, as well as the threats being leveled at journalists. The forces behind these threats want a media industry which works according to their wishes. They want to create a puppet media industry .[/quote]

Brig. Ruwan Wanigasooriya refuted these allegations:

[quote]We reject the allegations that these drugs were planted by the Army. Two police officers searched the vehicle and they discovered it. So there is no basis to claim that it was the army that planted these drugs. The main functions of a roadblock are handled by the army; however it is the police that search vehicles with the assistance of the Army.[/quote]

President of Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association Lasantha Ruhunage said:

[quote]False charges were levelled against them and they were detained. They were considered as criminals. That is why a group was able to reach Colombo and another group got detained. This latest incident clearly shows that an organised action is being taken to stop journalists because they cannot stop these peaceful and legal activities. State institutions are directly intervening in this regard. They have labelled journalists as criminals. We will focus our attention on this and we will take steps to work against such actions. We condemn this act. [/quote]


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