New York, February 6, 2007—Three staff members of Akuna, a bimonthly trade union newspaper, were seized on Monday from the suburbs of Colombo, according to news reports. The men, who are also trade union activists, may be in government custody.
“We fear for the safety of the three missing newspaper staff members, and we call on the government to publicly disclose any information regarding their whereabouts,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists.
Several men who said they were from the Criminal Investigation Department seized M. Lalith Seneviratne, editorial coordinator and design editor of the Sinhala-language publication, at his home around 9:30 p.m., his wife told the BBC. When contacted by the press advocacy group Free Media Movement (FMM) a few hours later, though, police denied holding the editor.
“A group of seven people took him away before I came from the kitchen to inquire who was in the house,” the journalist’s wife, P. Champika, told the BBC. “I saw a weapon in one person’s hand.”
Seneviratne previously worked for the Sinhala-language monthly Hiru.
Two other staff members of the trade union publication were abducted on the same day, according to FMM. The newspaper’s publisher, M.A. Sisira Priyankara, was reported missing at 11 p.m. on Monday after he left his workplace at the Sri Lankan railway to answer a phone call, the organization said. Nihal Serasinghe, who oversaw the printing of Akuna, went missing around 3 p.m.
It is not clear why the three men were targeted, although Akuna had been covering democracy and human rights issues, FMM spokesman Sunanda Deshapriya told CPJ. The three had also been politically active, he said, raising the possibility that they may have been targeted for reasons unrelated to journalism.