Nine journalists have been arrested, multiple computers have been seized and thousands of documents have been confiscated by Sri Lankan police officers when they raided the office of an independent news website on Friday. Police said they used a court warrant for the raid against the site known as srilankamirror but did not go as far as to provide the reason for the raid or the arrests, according to Gnanasiri Kottigoda, the president for the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association.
Last year, the website was one of five to be blocked by the government in a move that was criticized internationally as a violation of freedom for the media. One month after it was blocked, a court order restored access to the website. Kottigoda said that the police action on Friday shows “the government has not stopped its campaign to harass and intimidate the independent media institutions and journalists in Sri Lanka.”
The office, located in Kotte, was surrounded by more than one dozen police officers who then searched the office for three hours. Kotte is not far from the country’s capital, Colombo. Computers and documents were seized by officers from the premises and also took nine journalists into custody. This includes the website’s editor and four women.
Kottigoda said that if the website published incorrect information or caused character assassination, the government of Sri Lanka has methods to take legal action against the website and punish it. Without taking legal action first and instead using a police raid, Kottigoda said that it is unacceptable.
“We see this as a move to silence the independent media in Sri Lanka,” he added.
The website, along with four others, were blocked in 2011 by the government for alleged character assassination. The blocking of the other four websites is still active to this day. The website was unblocked when it filed a case with the Supreme Court. Sri Lanka’s Telecommunication Regulatory Authority unblocked the site on the condition that it would not publish links to websites that are blocked or unregistered. When the sites were blocked last year Sri Lanka received a ton of criticism from media rights groups and countries, including the United States.
The Committee to Protect Journalists announced that the country of Sri Lanka is the fourth most dangerous country for journalists in 2010. Since 2006 began, Amnesty International said that at least 14 media workers from Sri Lanka have been killed. The government has been blamed by media rights groups for attacks on journalists and media institutions in the country.