Journalists continue to be threatened by state and top police officials: UNP

In a statement released by the Central Media Unit of United National Party today (04), Deputy Leader of the Party Ruwan Wijewardene claimed that over the years, journalists and social media users have been subjected to criticism and indirect threats from the state and top police officials.

Wijewardene alleged that the latest addition to this list of those who have witnessed their right to free speech being threatened is journalist Tharindu Eranga Jayawardena.

“The response of the Senior DIG in charge of the Western Province Deshabandu Tennakoon to a news item this journalist shared on Facebook on the 1st of this month is not appropriate for a police officer. Jayawardena is a fearless commentator as a young journalist. He is widely regarded as a journalist who disseminates truthful information to the public. A news item posted on the news website, of which he is the editor-in-chief, has been shared on Facebook. It is clear from the statements made by the Senior DIG regarding the news that this journalist’s right to freedom of expression has been indirectly affected,” Wijewardene said.

Referring to journalists as the fourth pillar of Democracy, Wijewardene urged the government to allow journalists to carry out their duties freely. Further, he stated that if Jayawardena has published a false news item on his website or insulted anyone, this matter can be clarified and legal action sought. Despite this, Wijewardene added that no party has the right to threaten, intentionally or unintentionally, any individual in exercising this freedom.

“By doing so, a high-ranking officer in the police department is more likely to influence lower-ranking officers as well, presuming that this young journalist is guilty. Therefore, this is an issue that the President and the government should immediately intervene and rectify. We will oppose any attempt to obstruct the free movement of a journalist without doing so,” he said.

To this effect, the UNP called on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Minister of Public Defense Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara to conduct a formal, impartial inquiry into this matter. Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister of Mass Media was also requested to ensure the safety of all journalists. The UNP also strongly encouraged IGP Chandana Wickramaratne to ensure the complaint filed by Tharindu Jayawardena for his safety is upheld.

Wijewardene also highlighted that the UNP has stood for the protection of the rights of freedom of expression for journalists and social media users throughout history and will continue to do so in the future.

“Many have forgotten that it was the UNP leader, Ranil Wickremesinghe, who committed himself to removing the criminal defamation law that persecuted journalists. I would like to take this opportunity to remind you that we, as a Party, are committed to defending the freedom of speech guaranteed in our Constitution. Therefore, we as a party, we strongly condemn the current impediments to the freedom of expression of journalists and social media users,” he said.