In Sri Lanka, Tamil journalist released after four-month detention

New York, March 22, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes today’s release of Tamil journalist Parameswaree Maunasámi, who petitioned the Supreme Court that she was being illegally detained after being held for four months without charge.

Maunasámi, a reporter for the Sinhala-language weekly Mawbima, was arrested November 24 at her home in the capital Colombo, and held without charge or trial under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which allows suspects to be detained for prolonged periods without being charged with a crime. She was freed after she petitioned the Supreme Court that she was illegally detained, according to local and international news reports. But before her case could be brought to trial, the attorney general announced that she would be released without charge.

“We are relieved at the long overdue release of our colleague Parameswaree Maunasámi, however she should never have been held without charge,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The use of anti-terrorism laws to detain journalists without trial is a serious threat to press freedom in Sri Lanka, and harms the flow of crucial news and information.”

Colleagues of the reporter, who also worked as a translator for the paper, said she wrote a series of articles on alleged abductions, harassment and threats against Tamil citizens by paramilitary groups in Sri Lanka.

Articles appeared in Sinhala-language newspapers after her arrest that quoted police accusations that she had been found with explosives, according to local press advocacy group Free Media Movement. But Maunasámi was never charged with any crime, and supporters claimed she was the victim of a smear campaign.

In an appeal to the international community on March 14, publishers of the weekly denounced what they called the government’s “frontal attack” on the newspaper in response to its critical reporting. In a letter they said that authorities had frozen the accounts of Standard Newspapers Private Ltd. on March 13, following the arrest of its director Dushyanta Basnayake on February 26 by the Terrorist Investigation Division.