Diplomatic corps must act to free ailing Sri Lankan journalist

New York, March 31, 2001–The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on the international diplomatic community in Colombo to help secure the release of Lanka eNews website News Editor Bennet Rupasinghe. According to colleagues in Colombo and international news reports, Rupasinghe was arrested by police after responding to a summons. He was called to give a statement about allegedly threatening a brother of a suspect who is in custody over the arson attack on the site’s office on January 31.

Rupasinghe’s case was carried over to April 7, according to the reports. The court said that due to his age he may be allowed to be held in a secure hospital.

“Sri Lankan journalists are at the mercy of killers and kidnappers because the government has failed to meet its responsibility to protect them. This arrest cries out for immediate international support, and we call on diplomats in Colombo to pressure authorities to meet their obligations,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Not only has the office of Lanka eNews come under arson attack, but its editor is in exile and its cartoonist is missing–the threat to the safety of its remaining staff is clear.”

On January 24, 2010, the site’s columnist and political cartoonist, Prageeth Eknelygoda, was abducted two days before presidential elections. His wife, Sandhya, and their two teenage sons have kept up a steady campaign pressuring the government to investigate the disappearance, which so far has not happened. A representative of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office has contacted the family, expressing Ban’s concern, and offering them the U.N.’s support in their campaign.

Chief Editor Sandaruwan Senadheera, living in exile since early 2010 in London after repeated threats on his life, says he intends to keep the site running. The news site’s offices were destroyed in an apparent arson attack in the early morning on January 31. At the time, CPJ called for the United Nations to intervene.

Lanka eNews is known for exposing governmental corruption and criticizing the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. It gave its support to defeated opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka in the January 2010 presidential elections. Fonseka was arrested on February 8, 2010, court-martialed for committing “military offenses,” and sentenced to three years in prison.

Attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka are seldom meaningfully investigated and never prosecuted. The country ranks fourth on CPJ’s 2010 Impunity Index, which measures governments’ records of bringing the killers of journalists to justice.