Sri Lankan police arrested nine journalists and seized computers and documents from the office of an independent news website Friday, said a media rights group in one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.
Police said they had a court warrant to act against www.srilankamirror.com but they have not explained the reasons for the arrests, said Gnanasiri Kottigoda, the president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, a local media rights group.
The site was among five blocked by the government last year in a move criticized internationally as a violation of media freedom. A court settlement restored access to http://www.srilankamirror.com a month later.
Friday’s police action clearly shows that "the government has not stopped its campaign to harass and intimidate the independent media institutions and journalists in Sri Lanka," Kottigoda said.
More than a dozen police officers surrounded the office in Kotte, on the outskirts of the capital, Colombo, and searched the premises for about three hours, said Kottigoda and an eyewitness who asked not to be named.
They seized computers and documents and drove the nine journalists, including the website’s editor and four women, away in police vehicles, both said.
A police spokesman did not return calls seeking comment Friday.
Even if the website published false information or caused character assassination, Sri Lanka has ways to take legal action and punish them. Without doing so, using police to raid offices of independent media institutions can’t be acceptable, Kottigoda said.
"We see this as a move to silence the independent media in Sri Lanka," he added.
Last year, authorities blocked http://www.srilankamirror.com and four other websites over alleged character assassination, and the action is still in effect for the four others.
After the website filed a case in the Supreme Court, Sri Lanka’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority agreed to unblock http://www.srilankamirror.com on condition that it would not provide links to sites that are blocked or unregistered.
The blocking of the websites drew wide criticism from media rights groups and countries, such as the United States.
The Committee to Protect Journalists said Sri Lanka was the fourth most dangerous country for journalists in 2010.
Amnesty International says at least 14 Sri Lanka media workers have been killed since the beginning of 2006.