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Police officer threatens journalist, confiscates his recording equipment

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM press release:

FMM condemns the harassment of Pothuvil "Lankadeepa" correspondent by official

The Mix Media Foundation in Ampara district informed FMM that one of its members, Mr. U Wijesinghe, was threatened in abusive language by a deputy inspector general of the police who also forcibly seized the journalist's camera and tape recorder. Mr. Wijesingha is the Pothuvil correspondent for "Lankadeepa" and "Daily Mirror" newspapers.

FMM unequivocally condemns this uncivilized act by a higher official. Journalists have a right to cover public interest issues and obtain relevant information from government officials. The deputy inspector general's behavior is a clear violation of journalists' rights as well as the people's right to know. Threatening and using abusive language against a journalist who is just performing his duty is unacceptable under any circumstances.

On 17 September 2007, Mr. Wijesinghe went to cover a police recruitment programme being conducted at the Pottuvil police station in eastern Sri Lanka. Having obtained permission to talk to the two deputy inspector generals there, he switched on his tape recorder just as one of them started explaining the recruitment process.

According to newspaper reports, "the other deputy inspector general, who suddenly noticed that the tape recorder had been switched on, fiercely shouted at the journalist in foul language for recording the conversation. He threatened to slam the journalist to the ground if he didn't leave the premises immediately".

Other police officers then grabbed the journalist and seized his camera and tape recorder. Later, after recording all his personal details, police returned the equipment, excluding the audio tape.

FMM would like to reiterate the importance of safeguarding the rights of provincial correspondents who are coming under increasing pressure from state officials, politicians and other power groups. When higher officials abuse and threaten journalists in this manner, the ability of journalists to report public interest issues is curtailed.

FMM requests an impartial and immediate inquiry into this incident and urges the inspector general of police to take immediate steps to advise his officers to treat journalists with due respect.

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