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Journalists detained and questioned by Terrorist Investigations Department

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an 8 March 2008 FMM press release:

Number of journalists arrested; one journalist released after questioning.

8 March 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The Free Media Movement (FMM) is concerned about the arrest and questioning of a number of journalists on 7 and 8 March 2008. Some were held incommunicado for several hours. Most of the journalists arrested were associated with , a news and features website.

On the evening of 6 March, E-Kwality printing press owner and writer N. Jasiharan and his partner Valarmathi were arrested by the Terrorist Investigations Department (TID) without any valid reason. Jasiharan's laptop computer and printed material from his printing press were confiscated.

On 7 March, the TID arrested editor of and freelance journalist J.S Tissainayagam. He was questioned in the morning, and held incommunicado. His family was informed that he has been arrested only in the late evening. The "Daily Mirror's" website reported on 8 March that the TID refused to elaborate on what he was being questioned about. He is to be detained under emergency regulation from 8 March for 30 days.

Also on 7 March, K. Wijesingha, another reporter, and Udayanan, the visual editor of the website, were arrested and held until 12.00 a.m. (local time). Wijesingha's family was allowed to visit him at the TID on March 8. No news of Udayanan was available until midnight the same day.

On the afternoon of 7 March, the TID came looking for S. Sivakumar (alias Balasubramanium Wasanthan), the spokesperson of the FMM and editor of the bi-monthly Tamil-language "Sarinihar" magazine, and took a cousin of his into custody. The FMM was able to negotiate that Sivakumar would appear at the TID office at 9:00 a.m. on 8 March.

On 8 March, Sivakumar and cameraman Ranga were taken in for questioning. High officials of the TID assured the FMM that no extra-judicial methods would be used in their interrogation. The FMM was relieved that Sivakumar was released within 12 hours, in the late evening of 8 March.

The FMM accepts that law enforcement agencies have a right to investigate leads in the public interest and take appropriate action as stipulated by the law. FMM also hopes that a fair process will be followed regarding the arrested writers and journalists. The right to retain lawyers at police stations while statements are being recorded and the right to inform family and colleagues as to where one is being questioned are basic rights that must be granted.

FMM notes that these rights are violated more often than not. Maintaining that, until proven in a court of law, anyone arrested is innocent and has to be treated as such, the FMM stands up for the rights of these writers and journalists as citizens of this country.

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