Prison authorities have refused to release Rajiv Yasiru Kuruwitage Mathew despite a bail order by Colombo Chief Magistrate Buddhika Sri Ragala, on Wednesday (9), Colombo Telegraph learns.
Kuruwitage’s lawyers have been informed by prison authorities that their client will not be released from remand despite the bail order, until he undergoes a PCR test on Thursday (10) and results of that test are received. This process could take several days, especially for incarcerated persons.
Lawyers told Colombo Telegraph that if prison officials could not unilaterally decide to retain a person in custody who has been granted a bail order by a court of law, that would be tantamount to being an illegal detention. However health authorities could decide whether to put that person in quarantine or conduct medical testing, the lawyers explained.
Despite a request by the CID that Kuruwitage should be remanded further until they can frame fresh charges against him, the Chief Magistrate rejected the request and released the young man on bail. Kuruwitage was arrested by the CID on Monday June 7 without a warrant, in connection with a press release he issued regarding a cyber attack on President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s website.
The CID case against Kuruwitage unravelled in court, when lawyers for the suspect pointed out that he could not be charged under the sections of the Computer Crimes Act the police had cited in its B report, since he had not hacked government information systems.
The Chief Magistrate asked the CID if Kuruwitage had hacked into government information systems and obtained information, but the police informed court that no such information had been leaked. The CID could reply when the Magistrate asked if Kuruwitage had aided or abetted such an act, to which the CID had no reply. The Magistrate then asked the CID on what basis the arrest had been made.
The CID officers asked the court to hold Kuruwitage in remand until they could file new charges against him under a different law.
The Chief Magistrate rejected this request and released Yasiru Kuruwitage on bail of Rs 100,000. The magistrate also advised Kuruwitage to exercise his right to expression responsibly, without causing social disruption.
However, despite the bail order, Kuruwitage remains in custody with prison officials refusing to honour the court order until the PCR testing process was complete.
Attorney at Law Thishya Weragoda and a team of lawyers appeared for Kuruwitage.
Attorney Weragoda told local news stations that Kuruwitage’s mobile phone and computer had been seized by the CID illegally. No receipt had been provided for the seizure, he said. This was a requirement under the law, Weragoda pointed out. “People cannot be arrested on someone’s whims, there are laws in this country,” the Counsel for Kuruwitage charged.
Watch: [Time stamp 26:08 – 29:17]
The CID Digital Forensics Division arrested Kuruwitage, a young man styling himself as the chairman of the “Information Technology Society of Sri Lanka”. The CID entered his home and forced him to go back to the police division with them, despite having no documents and no warrant from a court of law for his arrest.
Audio records of what transpired during Kuruwitage’s arrest indicates that the CID was unable to say which provision of the Code of Criminal Procedure of Sri Lanka the ‘ITSSL Chairman’ had violated with his Facebook post about the cyber attack.
Listen to the audio:
The illegal arrest is part of a systematic crackdown by the authorities targeting social media users, as criticism mounts against the Government online. Another young man was arrested in Kandy over a Facebook post, just hours after the police announced a special CID team would be tasked with “patrolling cyber-space” for so-called fake news.
Activists and lawyers are expressing grave concern that the new police patrols on social media will seek to criminalize legitimate criticism against the Government and have a chilling effect on political dissent. The patrols amount to an infringement on the citizens’ right to free speech, as guaranteed by the constitution, in the guise of criminalizing disinformation, the lawyers argue. It is likely these actions will be challenged in the Supreme Court as clear violations of Article 14 of the constitution that guarantees freedom of expression.
Significantly, the only arrests so far have targeted citizens posting critical remarks about President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s government online. The regime has reached monumental levels of unpopularity in a remarkably short space of time, and government policies and officials routinely draw incisive mockery and criticism in online fora.