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Arrest of director of publishing house in Sri Lanka!

Urgent appeal from the International Human Rights Association - Bremen

Arrest of director of publishing house in Sri Lanka!
Terror against Sri Lankan media!

Open Letter - Becket, Benn
Mawbima press statement
Today, at 10pm Sri Lankan time, officers from the ‘Terrorist Investigation Division’ (TID) arrested Dushantha Basnayake a director of ‘Standard Newspapers Private Limited’ (SNPL) in Colombo. Standard Newspapers’ print the popular Sinhala weekly ‘Mawbima’(motherland), a newspaper that has been under severe attack from the President Mahinda Rajapakse. (Dushantha Basnayake has been freed)

The TID officers who arrived at around 6pm (Sri Lanka time) had interrogated Mr. Dushantha Basnayake at his office for nearly four hours, when a phone call from a top Defence Ministry official precipitated his arrest. Mr. Basnayake, (40) a Sinhalese family man with two children, is well known within the business circles in Sri Lanka. Last Saturday (24th Feb.,) the president Rajapakse and his brother Gotabaya Rajapakse (Defence Secretary) along with other government politicians in a live TV broadcast made an attack of unprecedented intensity on the Mawbima Newspaper and its owner Tiran Alles for criticising the government policies. Under government instructions all state and private TV channels were compelled to broadcast this attack on the Mawbima. This is the second time that this newspaper had been publicly attacked by the president.

The mass circulation Sinhala language Mawbima newspaper had from its inception included critical material - which questioned the government policy with regard to human rights, corruption and the consequences arising from the government’s prosecution of the war in the north and east. The first action against the Mawbima was the arrest of a female Tamil journalist Paremeswari Munusamy, who worked as a translator for the newspaper. The same TID is holding Paremeswari Munusamy in detention for the last three months despite the fact that there have been no charges brought against her. This and further actions, like spurious raids by tax inspectors on the paper did not change its open editorial policy - which provided a wide range of political opinions ranging from hard line pro-government articles to ones that opposed it.

The government tried to portray the Mawbima newspaper as ‘pro-Tamil Tiger’ – an accusation that is used by President Rajapakse against all of his political opponents – including his own Foreign Minister for daring to speaking out against human rights violations and the suppression of media.

We urge you to take very urgent action to secure the release of Mr. Dushantha Basnayake. We urge you to bring international pressure to demand that the president immediately ceases all repressive measures against the Mawbima newspaper.

The President – Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse – fax: 0094 11 254 2919
The Secretary to the President – Mr. Lalith Weeratunge - 0094 11 244 6657

Please email a copy of your letter to imrv@humanrights.de

26th of February 2007