Seven journalists attached to Tamil newspapers in the Northern province had been detained last night and questioned for over six hours by the law enforcement authorities sabotaging a workshop they were planning to attend in Colombo today, under charges of possessing marijuana.
The journalists had been en-route to Colombo to participate in a workshop last night. Tamil politician Gajendra Ponnambalam who has been tweeting on the incident claims the van had been tailed by the military since the group left Jaffna. According to his tweets the vehicle had been initially stopped at Mankulam and searched by the Army.
Thereafter the second stop had been made at the Omanthai checkpoint where three Army personnel had placed in the front seat of the van, which had been searched thereafter. During the search, a packet of marijuana had been recovered from the van. Ponnambalam’s tweets state that at least three journalists had witnessed the bag of cannabis being placed in the front seat of the van by the Army personnel.
The group had thereafter been taken to the Omanthai Police where they were questioned for over six hours. The journalists also state that although they attempted to lodge a complaint concerning their suspicions over the planting of evidence, the Omanthai Police did not accept it.
Military Spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya commenting on the incident claims the checking was carried out after the officials at the Omanthai checkpoint received a tip on a possible transportation of heroin last night.
“About ten minutes later, this vehicle in question had approached the checkpoint and it had been stopped to be checked during which, a packet of marijuana had been recovered. The driver and the van has been detained but the other seven passengers have been released. It is unfortunate that they had to be journalists,” he said speaking at a media conference today.
He also rejected allegations of an Army official stationed at the check point planting the evidence and said it could not have happened since it was two Police officials who discovered the marijuana packet from the van.
Meanwhile, during a media conference organized by the Free Media Movement (FMM) today to raise objections over the harassment of the seven journalists, it was revealed that its Convener Sunil Jayasekara has been receiving death threats for holding the event.
“I received a call from an unknown number, which I could not dial back – and the individual on the other end said he will not let me live if I hold this press conference today,” he said adding that democracy and civil rights in Sri Lanka have been severely threatened presently and accused the Rajapaksa regime of attempting to turn journalists into puppets under their control.