A journalist who alleged he was intimidated by an armed group was detained by the Colombo Crimes Division (CCD) and held overnight on Wednesday (17) when he was summoned to provide a statement on his complaint, Colombo Telegraph learns.
Sujeewa Gamage a web journalist attached to Siyarata.lk had originally lodged a complaint with the Dematagoda police about the incident. The CCD has since taken over inquiries. Gamage was admitted to the National Hospital Colombo for treatment of his injuries including a minor surgery, Colombo Telegraph learns.
Attorney at Law Namal Rajapakse who is representing Gamage said the journalist had been held for questioning for over five hours at the CCD even though his client had just been discharged from hospital.
The journalist’s detention by the police has sparked fears that authorities were poised to arrest him for making a false complaint, in an almost identical re-run of the Garnier Francis Swiss Embassy saga in November 2019.
Francis was recently indicted for making a false complaint in the High Court, but her complaint that she had been forcibly detained by an unidentified armed group and threatened to reveal details about the Swiss Embassy asylum visa programme was never investigated by the authorities. Francis claimed she had been sexually molested while being forcibly held, and that her captors had taken pictures of messages on her mobile telephone. The attackers had lured Francis into the home of her daughter’s class teacher – an apartment in Colpetty. The Swiss embassy staffer told the CID and her lawyers that her abductors had insisted she should lie to her employer that she had been abducted in a white van outside the Swiss Embassy, rather than tell the truth about her detention at an apartment. Francis’ first lie to her employer, the Ambassador for Switzerland in Colombo, was relayed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and formed the basis of the CID’s initial complaint into the incident. When the CID failed to find CCTV images of the alleged abduction, it ceased its investigation into the attack on Francis and started investigating her instead. The CID never sought to discover the identity of the men who Francis said had held her at gunpoint at the residence of her daughter’s class teacher. Furthermore, the CID never interrogated the class teacher – reportedly the relative of a military intelligence officer who had helped to set up the Swiss embassy worker on the pretext of requesting her help to fill up visa applications. The failure to investigate the teacher or her connections also exposed the fact that the CID had set out to protect the attackers while charging the victim with a crime. The Government of President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa insisted that the Swiss embassy visa officer had manufactured the entire incident to bring his then new Government into disrepute. Terrified about the fate of its employee, the Swiss Government never effectively countered that false propaganda operation.
Gamage’s intimidation has received minimal publicity even though the police have confirmed they received a complaint about an alleged attack. Fears that the alleged attack on the journalist – whether related to his work as a reporter or not – could cause embarrassment to the Government, the CCD is likely arrest the journalist and charge him with making a false complaint Colombo Telegraph learns.
It was former Speaker Karu Jayasuriya who first flagged the alleged assault on the journalist. Jayasuriya tweeted that a journalist had been “abducted, assaulted and threatened on the 10th (of March”. The incident resembled the pre-2015 era, he claimed. “Lack of solidarity in the media industry to stand up for their victimized fellow is worrisome. The culprits must be investigated and punished to restore trust in the authorities,” Jayasuriya’s tweet said.
SJB Colombo District MP Harsha De Silva also tweeted about the alleged attack.
Journalist Sujeewa Gamage claims his assailants had threatened him for the location of a pen drive containing an interview with the wife of one of the Easter Sunday bombers, Pulasthini Rajendran alias Sara Jasmine. Rajendran was married to Mohammed Hashtun, who detonated his backpack inside the St. Sebastian’s Church Katuwapitiya, Negombo on April 21, 2019. Her whereabouts have become the subject of intensive political debate with the release of the report by the Presidential Commission on the Easter Sunday attacks.
Gamage claims the assailants tied a bag over his head and beat him during questioning. The journalist told local media outlets that he had been threatened with a hot knife. The journalist was treated at National Hospital for five days. Gamage believes his attackers obtained the pen drive containing what he has referred to as explosive interview.
Colombo Telegraph is unable to verify if the alleged interview with Rajendran has already been published. Sujeewa Gamage is the brother of former Bar Association of Sri Lanka Secretary Sanjaya Gamage, Colombo Telegraph learns. The journalist’s father was the poet P. D.M. Ariyadasa.
Sujeewa Gamage has worked at publications including Aththa, Janadina, Yukthiya and Janasathiya.
The Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka said the alleged abduction and torture of freelance journalist Sujeewa Gamage was grave warning about the security of journalists in the country. In a statement issued on Wednesday signed by Convenor Seetha Ranjanee and Secretary Lasantha De Silva, the FMM urged the Government to investigate the incident and expose the truth about the alleged attack.
“It is problematic that if the journalist’s pen drive was required, steps were not taken to obtain it by legal means,” FMM said in its statement.
The media rights group said that Gamage had already provided a statement to the Dematagoda police and that it was reported that the investigations were being carried out by the CCD. “We urge the Government to conduct a swift inquiry into the incident and reveal the truth behind this abduction and its perpetrators.
Amnesty International said it was deeply concerned by the alleged attack against the journalist. “According to his lawyer, Gamage was allegedly physically assaulted and tortured by a group of unidentified persons on 10 March 2021. Media indicate that the Police is investigating the incident. Amnesty International hopes that the investigation is prompt, impartial and independent with a view of holding the perpetrators to account.
In a statement to the Media, the UNP urged the authorities to fully investigate the act of violence against Gamage and said those responsible must be held accountable. The UNP also raised the issue of BBC Tamil service correspondent Ranjan Arun Prasath who was detained and questioned recently. (By Chinthika De Silva)