Sri Lankan authorities must immediately drop any investigation into freelance Tamil journalists Punniyamoorthy Sasikaran and Valasingham Krishnakumar in retaliation for their reporting and allow them to work without interference, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.
On October 28, a police officer separately interrogated Sasikaran and Krishnakumar at their homes in eastern Batticaloa district following their reporting on an October 8 protest, according to the advocacy group Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka and the journalists, who spoke with CPJ.
The protest, which coincided with President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s visit to Batticaloa, included hundreds of farmers and activists demonstrating against alleged state-backed land grabbing by Sinhalese settlers.
Sasikaran covered the events for the privately owned U.K.-based broadcaster IBC Tamil and digital news outlet BATTIMIRROR, while Krishnakumar reported for the privately owned websites Maddu News and Samugam Media.
The officer questioned Sasikaran and Krishnakumar about their personal and journalistic backgrounds and activities, and what occurred at the protest for around two and a half hours and one hour and 15 minutes, respectively, the journalists told CPJ.
The officer ordered them to sign written statements of their testimony and notified them that they had been named in a police criminal investigation in relation to the protest along with several farmers, politicians, and activists, and were due to appear for a hearing at the Eravur Magistrate Court on November 17.
Neither Sasikaran nor Krishnakumar had received a written summons or a copy of a police report detailing the precise allegations against them as of November 8, they said.
“Sri Lankan authorities must immediately cease all forms of reprisal against journalists Punniyamoorthy Sasikaran and Valasingham Krishnakumar and ensure they may report freely,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Beh Lih Yi.
“The government must put an end to the long-standing pattern of relentless harassment targeting Tamil journalists covering human rights violations impacting their community.”
Following Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war that ended in 2009, ethnic tensions persist between the Sinhalese people, the country’s majority ethnic group, and Tamils, who have experienced systematic discrimination in the country.
On November 4, Sasikaran and Krishnakumar received a court order, reviewed by CPJ, directing them to hand over their unedited video footage of a Buddhist monk threatening to “cut Tamils into pieces,” and to provide a statement to police in relation to a separate investigation into the monk.
On November 7, Sasikaran and Krishnakumar appeared at the Batticaloa Divisional Crime Detective Bureau and provided the footage to police, who questioned them for one hour each about their coverage and which media outlets they shared their videos with, they told CPJ.
Sasikaran and Krishnakumar told CPJ that they believed the latest incident was another form of harassment intended to muzzle their reporting on farmers and marginalized communities.
CPJ’s messages to Ajith Rohana, deputy inspector-general of the Batticaloa police, did not receive a response.
Police have repeatedly interrogated Sasikaran and Krishnakumar in retaliation for their work.
On August 22, a mob of around 50 Sinhalese men held Krishnakumar and two other journalists captive while they were reporting on alleged state-backed land encroachments in Batticaloa.
No suspects had been accountable for this incident as of November 8, Krishnakumar said.