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FMM condemns arrest of journalist, two others by Borella Police

(FMM/IFEX) - 11 June 2011 - The Free Media Movement (FMM) expresses grave concern about the arrest and interrogation of a female journalist and two others by the Borella police in the early hours of Friday 10 June and views the incident as yet another serious blow to the democratic right to free expression.

Journalist Sureka Samarasena and two others - Sampath Balasuriya and Aruna Premathilaka - were arrested by officers of the Borella police, at 2.00 a.m. Friday morning and interrogated for several hours until after dawn before being released. They were arrested while putting up posters at a demarcated spot outside Aquinas College in Borella, informing the general public about an open forum at the Public Library in Colombo, on 13 June, to discuss a number of contentious issues causing unrest in the country. These include salaries for university academic staff, a proposed private sector pension scheme and leadership training by the military for university students, among other issues.

The posters had been printed by a group identifying themselves as "Others" (Anek Kattiya), a group that is not affiliated to any political party or organisation, and were being put up by the journalist and her two friends on special panels set up by the police specifically for posters when the arrest occurred. According to reports reaching the FMM, police officers destroyed the posters that were already up and seized the rest, charging that the three were conspiring against the government.

Article 14 of the Sri Lankan Constitution provides for freedom of speech and protects the right to freedom of opinion and expression, as detailed in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. The FMM believes the police's action in arresting the journalist and her friends, who were exercising their democratic rights, and in destroying and seizing the posters, is not only a serious violation of these rights but also an abuse of power by those tasked with maintaining law and order in the country.

The FMM unequivocally condemns the police action as politically motivated and believes the incident to be a serious threat to democratic freedoms, including the right to hold dissenting political beliefs, express views and opinions. In an environment where no serious effort is made to investigate the numerous incidents of media and human rights violations, FMM calls on the government to ensure that individuals be given the freedom to exercise their constitutional rights and that action be taken against police officers who violate these rights.

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