Another Lanka eNews journalist arrested

New York, April 25, 2011–Police arrested a journalist with the independent Sri Lankan news website Lanka eNews today, according to local news reports. CPJ has called on the United Nations and the international diplomatic community this year to respond to a series of uninvestigated attacks targeting the outspoken site. 

Lanka eNews said on its website that five police officers arrested the journalist, Shantha Wijeysooria, at the website’s Colombo offices on contempt of court charges. He will appear before Aravinda Perera, a magistrate from Pugoda in western Sri Lanka on Tuesday, according to Lanka eNews and the website of the local Daily Mirror.

The charges appeared to relate to a news item involving the magistrate. The website published an apology on Friday for an article posted April 19 that said the Pugoda magistrate was holding two suspects in custody in contravention of the attorney general’s written order to release them. “This news item was erroneous,” the apology said. Local news reports said Friday that the arrest warrant had originally targeted Lanka eNews Chief Editor Sandaruwan Senadheera for falsely accusing the magistrate. Senadheera lives in exile in London.

“It’s outrageous for a journalist to face contempt of court charges for making a mistake,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Errors are regrettable but unfortunately unavoidable when covering fast-paced news. Journalists have an obligation to correct the record. But for a magistrate to make this into a criminal matter represents a flagrant abuse of power.”

Lanka eNews supported the now-imprisoned opposition presidential candidate Sareth Fonseka and frequently criticizes President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government. It has faced a series of incidents that are likely in retaliation for its reporting:

  • News Editor Bennet Rupasinghe was arrested March 31 for allegedly threatening another man, according to international news reports. The 68-year-old diabetic has been released on bail, according to the BBC.
  • An apparent arson attack gutted the website’s offices on January 31.
  • Cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknelygoda was abducted on January 24, 2010, two days before presidential elections. He has not been heard from since.

Sri Lanka has consistently failed to investigate attacks on journalists, according to CPJ research. The country placed fourth on CPJ’s 2010 Impunity Index, a list of countries where journalists are killed regularly and governments fail to solve the crimes. It calculates unsolved journalist murders as a percentage of each country’s population.