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Sri Lanka: Attempted abduction of journalist and human rights defender Mr Shanta P Wijesooriya
Prominent journalist and human rights defender, Mr Shanta P Wijesooriya, narrowly escaped an abduction attempt on 5 July in Nugegoda.
Shanta Wijesooriya is currently working as an investigative journalist for Sri Lanka X News, a news website, and he is a committee member of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), which campaigns against State suppression of the media and attacks against journalists by State actors.
Attempt to kidnap leading investigative journalist
From 2007 to 2011, the defender worked as an investigative journalist for Lanka-e-News, covering human rights issues including judicial corruption and miscarriages of justice.
On the afternoon of 5 July 2012, Shanta Wijesooriya noticed that he was being followed by a white van in Nugegoda, a suburb of Colombo, and changed his route in order to avoid it. At that moment, two individuals attempted to abduct him. One of the assailants grabbed the human rights defender by the shirt and began to drag him towards the van; however, Shanta Wijesooriya managed to kick the person away and escape.
On 29 June 2012, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) raided the offices of Sri Lanka X News and its sister website, Sri Lanka Mirror. Nine people were arrested before being subsequently released on bail, and several computers were seized. Shanta Wijesooriya was not among those arrested.
Serious harassment by military intelligence and CID
Since September 2011, Shanta Wijesooriya and members of his family have received several visits from military intelligence and CID officials, and unidentified individuals have asked about the defender near his home on more than one occasion.
Of particular concern are the actions of one CID officer who telephoned Shanta Wijesooriya on a number of occasions and falsely accused him of writing a column for Lanka-e-News under the pseudonym “Soldaddu Unnahe” (Mr Soldier). The officer also told the defender that he had made a mistake in lodging a complaint with the police on 25 October 2011 regarding the intimidation, surveillance and interrogation which he had been subjected to, and he warned him that he should stop writing for Mawbima Newspaper and that he should instead write for a State-owned newspaper.
The official later went in person to the Mawbima Newspaper office, where Shanta Wijesooriya was employed at the time. When asked for identification by the defender, the official produced a National Identity Card with the name Ananda Jayamanne. The defender noted that the official arrived in a white van, with licence plate number PB9654, and he saw several suspicious-looking individuals standing nearby. When covering an abduction in Nugegoda two months later, eyewitnesses informed both Shanta Wijesooriya and the police that the van used for the abduction had the same licence plate number.
On 25 April 2011, Shanta Wijesooriya was arrested and charged with contempt in connection with an article published on the Lanka-e-News website. He was refused bail in spite of the fact that several apologies and retractions were published on the website, and he was finally released on 14 May 2011.
Fears for safety of Shanta Wijesooriya who is currently in hiding
The human rights defender was beaten by a jailer while detained at the Mahara Prison. He suspects that the beating was linked to an article he had written a month earlier about corruption and ill-treatment of prisoners and their families by jailers at Mahara Prison.
Shanta Wijesooriya has submitted a formal written complaint by registered post to the Inspector General of Police regarding the abduction attempt, and he is currently in hiding.
Front Line Defenders is seriously concerned for the physical and psychological security of Shanta Wijesooriya and believes that the actions detailed above are directly linked to his peaceful and legitimate work as an investigative journalist regularly working on human rights issues.
Front Line Defenders believes that the actions detailed above form part of a series of human rights violations and repressive measures against online journalists.