Keerthi Ratnayake

Beats Covered:
Local or Foreign:

Sri Lankan journalist Keerthi Ratnayake was detained in August 2021, after he was summoned to a police station for questioning about information he had provided to the Indian Embassy in Colombo concerning a possible terrorist attack on the embassy. He was subsequently ordered to be held for an initial period of 90 days for allegedly violating the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Ratnayake is a former army intelligence officer and regular freelance contributor to the London-based, Sri Lanka-focused news website Lanka-e-News, where he covers defense and politics, according to Lanka-e-News.

On August 14, police summoned Ratnayake to the Kollupitiya Police Station in Colombo to question him about his contact with the Indian Embassy, according that report, Lanka-e-News editor Sandaruwan Senadheera, who spoke with CPJ via messaging app, and another person familiar with the case, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity due to fear of reprisal.

After reporting to the station, officers with the police Crime Division handcuffed Ratnayake and took him to his home, which they searched without a warrant and seized his personal laptop, phone, and several digital storage devices, according to that Lanka-e-News report.

Officers then detained Ratnayake and interrogated him at the Crime Division headquarters in Dematagoda, a Colombo suburb, for five days, before transferring him to the headquarters of the Criminal Investigation Department, the investigative arm of the Sri Lanka police, in Colombo, according to that report and Senadheera. On August 19, Ratnayake was ordered to be held for 90 days at that station under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, according to those sources.

Ratnayake has not been charged with a crime, according to Senadheera and the person familiar with the case. While in custody, police have pressured Ratnayake to reveal his sources for the warning he gave to the Indian Embassy and for stories critical of the government he wrote for Lanka-e-News, according to the person familiar with the case, who did not identify the specific stories Ratnayake was questioned about. 

Senadheera told CPJ that he believed Ratnayake was arrested because of his critical articles, given that he has been questioned about his journalistic activities, which have nothing to do with the warning he gave to the Indian Embassy. Ratnayake has been critical of the Sri Lankan police, army, and government in his reporting. In January, Ratnayake reported that a police official was planning to kill a criminal underworld figure who was subsequently shot dead in an alleged extrajudicial killing. 

On November 10, Ratnayake’s legal team filed a petition with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka alleging that his fundamental constitutional rights had been violated during his arrest, subsequent interrogations in custody, and ongoing detention. 

On November 15, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s president and minister of defense, issued an order extending Ratnayake’s detention at the Criminal Investigation Department for another 90 days, until February 15, 2022, according to a copy of that order. Under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a government minister can extend an individual’s detention without charge in three-month increments for up to 18 months.

On November 29, the Colombo Fort Magistrate Court delayed review of Ratnayake’s bail application until December 8, according to the person familiar with the case.

Senadheera told CPJ that Ratnayake has not suffered any health issues while in detention. 

CPJ emailed S.P. Ranasinghe, the deputy inspector general of the Criminal Investigation Department; H. Samudrajeewa, the deputy inspector general of the Crime Division; and the media departments of the president’s office and Ministry of Defense, but did not receive any replies. The office-in-charge of the Kollupitiya Police Station did not respond to CPJ’s request for comment sent via messaging app.