20 October 1997


Journalist questioned at gunpoint by Sri Lankan Navy

Incident details

Niresh Eliathamby



(FMM/IFEX) - According to "Prajathanthra" (the Foundation for
Freedom of Expression - Sri Lanka), Niresh Eliathamby, a
journalist attached to the Associated Press bureau in Colombo,
was held at gunpoint for more than two hours by security services
personnel while he was carrying out his duties as a journalist on
15 October 1997, the day of a major bomb explosion in Colombo.

Eliathamby was walking in the Colombo Fort area, about nine hours
after the bomb blast. He was taking some rolls of film to his
office. He was questioned and taken in by two members of the Sri
Lanka Navy, who said he had no right to have film with him or
take photographs in that area without the written permission of
the Secretary of Defence. The position that a journalist should
get special permission from the Secretary of Defence to
photograph the site of a bomb explosion and a confrontation, was
a position never before taken by the government, the police or
the security forces

Eliathamby was taken in a van from Colombo to the Sri Lanka Navy
base at Rangalla, several miles away, where he was held at
gunpoint and ordered to remove his shirt. He was denied a request
for a drink of water. Those who interrogated him refused to
accept his Accreditation Card as a Journalist of Associated Press
issued by the Government's Director of Information. They also
refused to take notice of the National Identity Card he carried.
He was also refused permission to make a telephone call to his
office to verify his identity. The naval personnel who
questioned, threatened and treated him roughly, did not take any
notice of his requests that they verify his identity and
occupation by contacting the Director of Information, the media
spokesman of the military, and his colleagues at Associated

He was on the point of being blindfolded when he was able to
attract the attention of an officer who was passing by. This
officer called in a senior officer who took the necessary steps
of verifying his identity and having him released.

While many journalists took photographs of the scene of the
explosion and the surroundings that day, there were no
restrictions placed on them. The fact that Eliathamby was taken
in, questioned and harassed in this manner, much later, when he
was alone, appears to be because he belongs to the Tamil

The South Asia Bureau Chief of Associated Press, Arthur Max,
stationed in New Delhi, has lodged a strong protest with the
Government about this mistreatment of Eliathamby, who has been
working at AP for several years and is a well-known journalist in
Sri Lanka.

Recommended Action

Send appeals to authorities:

  • condemning the harassment of Niresh Eliathamby
  • requesting assurances that those responsible will be
    disciplined and that such actions will not take place in future.

    Appeals To

    Mr. Mangala Samaraweera,
    Minister for Media
    Fax: 94 1 594536

    Gen. Anuruddha Ratwatte
    Deputy Minister for Defence
    Fax: 94 1 430590

    Mr. Chandrananda de Silva
    Secretary Defence
    Fax: 94 1 541529

    Com. Cecil Tissera,
    Commander of the Navy
    Fax: 94 1 433896

    Mr. Ariya Rubesinghe,
    Director of Information
    Fax: 94 1 576956

    Please copy appeals to the source if possible.

  • Source

    Sri Lanka

    IFEX members working in this country 1

    More from Sri Lanka
    • Freedom on the Net 2017: Sri Lanka

      Officials raised the need to introduce laws to regulate news websites and curb hate speech

    • Freedom of the Press 2016: Sri Lanka

      The government granted access to many news sites that had been blocked under the previous administration, including the diaspora-based outlet TamilNet, which had been obstructed since 2007.

    • Freedom on the Net 2015: Sri Lanka

      Rights violations on a considerable decline

    More from Asia & Pacific


    • The Campaign for Justice: Press Freedom in South Asia 2013-14

      Journalism in South Asia is far from an easy profession, as the 12th annual review of journalism in the region "The Campaign for Justice: Press Freedom in South Asia 2013-14" portrays. But this year's report also tells the story of the courage of South Asia's journalists to defend press freedom and to ensure citizens' right to information and freedom of expression in the face of increasing challenges to the profession and personal safety.

    • THE STORIES WOMEN JOURNALISTS TELL: Women in Media in South Asia

      The report is the first created by the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) looking specifically at the experience of women journalists in the South Asia sub-region