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Undercover police attempt to abduct veteran journalist

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

Police attempt to abduct a senior journalist

10 January 2008, Colombo - FMM is shocked and outraged that in an apparent abduction attempt police tried to enter the residence of senior journalist Poddala Jayantha during the early hours of January 7. Poddala Jayantha, provincial news editor of the Sinhala language weekly "Silumina", is the general secretary of largest organisation of journalists in the country, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association. He has been in the forefront of the struggle for press freedom in the rapidly deteriorating human rights environment in Sri Lanka.

At around 3 a.m. on January 7, a group of persons came in two vehicles to Poddala Jayantha's house. They were dressed in civilian clothes and demanded entry, saying they were from the police and wanted some information. Jayantha's wife refused to open the door as press freedom defenders and some senior journalists had been receiving death threats over the preceding two weeks. The group then began banging against the door, threatening to force their way in. Jayantha's wife called for help and as his house is situated in a village, neighbours gathered immediately. The journalist noted down the numbers of the vehicles (GC-0306 and 2532008). One of them was a police jeep and the other a white van. Once the group realised that there was a large crowd they retreated into their vehicles and hurriedly left the scene.

All inquires made by the journalists drew a blank. The police station in the area said that it had not sent any policemen to the scene and that there had been no search operations in the area, whether by its team or by any other. When the police jeep was traced to Matara police station, the officer in charge told inquiring journalists that this vehicle had not been released for any search and arrest operation.

This shows very clearly that police teams in civilian clothes roam in the night on search and arrest operations, without any formal orders being issued or records being made. These operations are no different under the law, from abductions. This further shows that if the attempt to abduct Poddala Jayantha had been successful, no records would have been maintained and he would have become virtually untraceable.

FMM would like to recall that in early December three persons disguised as telephone officials visited the residence of senior photojournalist, Anurudda Lokuhapuarachchi, when he was at work. While leaving one of them revealed a police identity document and claimed that they were from the intelligence service. All inquires made by FMM with all relevant police authorities drew a blank. According the police, including the senior Deputy Inspector-General, no police intelligence officers had visited the photojournalist's residence.

This again confirms that police agencies are engaged in undercover operations to harass intimidate and abduct media personnel.

This latest abduction attempt comes in the wake of death threats received by at least seven senior journalists for joining protests over Minister Mervyn de Silva's recent act of thuggery and intimidation against media and journalists. FMM takes this incident very seriously and demands that the government initiate an immediate inquiry and make its findings known as soon as possible.

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