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Eight journalists, office assistant arrested in police raid on two news websites

UPDATE: Eight online journalists and an office assistant freed, but investigation continues (RSF, 4 July 2012)

(RSF/IFEX) - 29 June 2012 - Reporters Without Borders firmly condemns today's police raids on the offices of two Colombo-based news websites, the SriLankaMirror and SriLankaXNews, in which eight of their journalists and an office assistant were arrested.

"We call for the immediate release of all those detained," Reporters Without Borders said. "The exact reasons for the raids on these two news websites, which the authorities have had in their sights for some time, must be clarified without delay. However, given the government's past violations of freedom of information, we regard it as an attempt to censor and intimidate critical journalists."

The raids were carried out at around 11:45 a.m. by about 25 police officers from the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) and the Crime Investigation Department (CID), who had a search warrant issued by Judge Prasanna Alwis of Colombo court No. 4.

Both websites are located in the same building - 71 Thotupolar Road, in the Colombo suburb of Athulkotte. One of them, SriLankaXNews, is operated by the United National Party (UNP), an opposition party.

The nine detainees were taken to CID headquarters in Colombo for questioning. They included six SriLankaMirror journalists and an office helper:

1. Kleum Shivantha Rodrigo - editor
2. Ajith Senevirathne - photographer
3. Tharindu Rajapaksa - feature writer
4. Himashi Karunarathne - sports editor
5. Shiranthini Manawadu - reporter
6. Asanka Nivantha - marketing manager
7. R.M. Preamawathi - office helper

Two SriLankaXNews journalists were also detained:

8. Siddik Kariyappar - Tamil-language editor
9. Subhash Jayawardane - features editor

The police confiscated computers from both offices, which they sealed. They also searched the home of Ruwan Ferdinandez, who previously worked for SriLankaMirror and is now editor-in-chief of SriLankaXNews.

The raids were carried out one day after access to five Tamil-language news websites - TamilWin, Athirvu, Sarithan, Ponguthamil and Pathivu - was blocked.

This not the first time the government has targeted the SriLankaMirror site, which was one of four leading independent news sites critical of the government that were blocked on the information ministry's orders in November 2011. The other three were SriLankaGuardian, Paparacigossip9, and LankaWayNews.

Access to the SriLankaMirror site was unblocked after it appealed to the Supreme Court. The Lankaenews and Lankanewsweb sites have also been hounded by the authorities, especially in connection with their coverage of corruption.

Sri Lanka was classified as one of the countries "under surveillance" in the latest Reporters Without Borders report on "Enemies of the Internet."
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