Expressing concern over reports of alleged attacks on journalists and rights activists in Sri Lanka, Amnesty International requested the government today to respect free speech, instruct law enforcement to end alleged intimidation tactics and investigate recorded cases of harassment.
“Amnesty International is concerned by multiple reports of harassment, intimidation and attacks on human rights organisations, media outlets, and journalists in Sri Lanka,” the rights watchdog said in a statement today.
“Amnesty International has received reports that the authorities carried out more than a dozen unscheduled visits to human rights and media organisations between May 2019 and January 2020 that were seen as acts of harassment and intimidation,” it added.
The organisation identified a number of individual journalists and media outlets it said were on the receiving end of harassment and intimidation. Among these were a Lankadeepa journalist, the former head of Lake House or the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd, two journalists associated with theleader.lk and voicetube.lk, the editor of Thinnapuyal and the offices of Newshub.lk.
In its statement, Amnesty International also referred to “at least twelve cases” recorded by the organisation of the Police allegedly visiting the offices of rights workers and enquiring the nature of their work.
“The reports indicate that such visits have occurred for several months over 2019, spilling into 2020, in different parts of the country including the Northern, Eastern and Western Provinces on an ad-hoc and arbitrary basis since May, however more systematically particularly in the Western Province since November 2019,” said Amnesty in its statement.
“This trend of information gathering by different law enforcement agencies serve as a form of harassment and intimidation and must be seen in the context of attacks, surveillance and harassment of human rights defenders (HRDs) that Amnesty International has documented as having occurred intermittently for several years,” it added.
Such harassment and intimidation, the organisation went on to say, has a chilling effect by way of suppressing dissent, creating fear in organisations and individuals defending and promoting human rights about the start of a crackdown, and may amount to reprisals for their work.
The organisation also reminded the Government of its obligation to protect HRDs.
“Sri Lanka has an international obligation to protect HRDs under a number of international human rights treaties including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which it is a state party. The Covenant guarantees the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression,” it said.