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Three journalists held without charge

IPI urges Sri Lanka to provide evidence for arrest or immediately release detained reporters

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 4 September 2009 - Three journalists for Sri Lanka's Lanka Irida newspaper arrested on Wednesday by police in the southern Deniyaya region have yet to be released – less than a week after another Sri Lankan journalist, J.S Tissanayagam, was handed a 20-year prison sentence for criticizing the Sri Lankan government offensive against Tamil Tiger rebels, and allegedly accepting money from the militants. IPI strongly criticized that ruling.

Shalike Wimalasena, a member of the Lanka Irida editorial board, Daya Neththasinghe, a reporter and Ravindra Pushpakumara, a press photographer, were arrested while visiting Deniyaya to prepare an article on the Southern Provincial Council Election.

According to IPI sources in the country, the three journalists arrested are in the custody of the infamous Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan police.

Sri Lanka's Daily Mirror reported that the journalists were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), a law first enacted as temporary in 1979, then made permanent in 1982, giving police sweeping powers to arrest and detain people.

Tissanayagam was also arrested under anti-terror legislation.

"The Sri Lankan authorities must provide evidence for their arrest and continued detention, or release them immediately," said IPI Director David Dadge. "Anti-terrorism laws have been used too often to silence critics and the Sri Lankan government should repeal these much-criticized laws."

Lanka Irida's chief editor, Chandana Sirimalwatta, said that Deniyaya police had informed him that the journalists had been arrested for entering an estate on which Tamils lived and that they were currently being questioned. However, the police did not specify the reason they were being held.

Sri Lanka's state owned news agency, Lankapuvath, however, reported on Thursday that the Lanka Irida journalists had been arrested "for entering the premises belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Ranawaka, brother-in-law and sister of President Mahinda Rajapaksa."

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