Several international human rights groups released a statement on June 24, Wednesday, calling on the Sri Lankan government led by Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the harassment and targeting of journalists in the country. The joint statement by Amnesty International, Front Line Defenders, Reporters Without Border, the Committee to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Watch demanded that the government ensure the safety of senior journalist Dharisha Bastians, who continues to be persecuted for carrying out investigations against the authorities.
The former editor of Sunday Observer has been labelled a “traitor” by the country’s mainstream media. As per local inputs, law enforcement officers have also repeatedly targeted Bastians’ associates and family members.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, officials from Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) raided Bastians’ home in Colombo on June 9 and seized her laptop. The CID has tried to implicate her in what it suggests is a conspiracy involving a false abduction case filed by a Swiss embassy staffer. However, it is widely believed that she is being persecuted for her journalism.
Bastians has written extensively on human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including enforced disappearances, the militarization of the state, widespread corruption and the issue of political rights. She has also been critical of the government’s targeting of religious and ethnic minorities.
Bastians broke the infamous “Navy Abduction Case” in July 2018, revealing that Sri Lankan state forces had allegedly abducted 11 youngsters for extortion. The case implicated several high ranking naval officers. Supporters of former president Mahinda Rajapaksa have also issued threats and initiated legal action against her.
The number of reports of journalists being persecuted in Sri Lanka has increased in recent months. Senior journalists such as Thusitha Kumara de Silva and Maduka Thaksala Fernando were harassed just weeks into the Gotabaya presidency. Many rights groups read this as an alarming sign for press freedom in the country. In November, the police raided offices of the local news portal, News Hub, searching its records for references to Gotabaya.
“Sri Lankan authorities should immediately end this intimidation campaign against Bastians, which is clearly retaliation for her critical reporting,” said Aliya Iftikhar, senior Asia researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists.