New York, June 18, 2020 – Sri Lankan authorities should immediately return journalist Dharisha Bastians’ computer and allow her to report without fear of official harassment, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
On June 9, officials from the Criminal Investigation Department raided Bastians’ home in Colombo, the capital, and seized her laptop in connection to an investigation over the alleged abduction of a Swiss embassy staffer in the city in November, she wrote in a statement shared on Twitter.
Bastians, a contributor to the New York Times and former editor of the state-run Sunday Observer newspaper, wrote that the officers had a warrant for the laptop, and that they had twice previously tried to confiscate it without a warrant.
Authorities allege that the embassy staffer’s abduction was staged, and accuse Bastians of communicating with the staffer and being linked to the alleged abduction, according to news reports. Bastians left Sri Lanka in November, and the raid was conducted while her family members were living in her home, according to those reports.
“CPJ strongly objects to the seizure of journalist Dharisha Bastians’ laptop and is concerned it could further endanger her sources,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher. “Sri Lankan authorities should immediately end this intimidation campaign against Bastians, which is clearly retaliation for her critical reporting.”
On June 16, the Colombo Chief Magistrate ordered government analysts to examine whether anything on the laptop had been changed since it was seized, according to those news reports.
In her statement, Bastians said she was concerned about “potential efforts by interested parties to compromise the integrity” of the laptop. She also wrote that Criminal Investigation Department previously obtained her phone records without a warrant and leaked them.
Bastians has reported and written columns on politics, human rights, enforced disappearances, and accountability for journalists who were murdered in Sri Lanka.
In 2018, CPJ reported that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who at the time was in the opposition party and is now the country’s prime minister, publicly named Bastians after she contributed to a New York Times investigation into his failed 2015 presidential campaign.
The Criminal Investigation Department did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for comment. Mohan Samaranayake, a spokesperson for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, did not respond to a request for comment via messaging app.