The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) holds grave fears for the safety of detained Tamil media worker N. Jesiharan and his family in Sri Lanka after the family received threats and demands for ransom in return for Jesiharan’s safety while in detention.
The IFJ appeals to Sri Lanka’s Minister for Human Rights and Disaster Management, Mahinda Samarasinghe, to honour a commitment he made to assure Jesiharan of protection while in custody.
Jesiharan is currently on trial on charges laid under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).
According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, Jesiharan’s family in a remote village in the volatile Batticoloa District, in Sri Lanka’s east, reported receiving three threatening phone calls on November 25 and 26. The caller demanded a ransom of Rs100,000 (about $US920) to keep Jesiharan alive, the FMM reports.
The family lodged a complaint with the Kalavanchikudi police station. However, the duty police officer told the FMM the police could not take action because the caller’s number could not be identified.
Jesiharan, the owner of E-Kwality Printers, and his partner Valarmathi were detained by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan police in March, along with senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam.
After being held for more than 150 days without charge, all three were indicted on August 25 under the PTA, and are now on trial. The charges refer to the content of Tissainayagam’s journalistic work.
Jesiharan and Tissainayagam were unexpectedly moved from a remand prison to the notoriously violent Magazine Prison in Colombo following a visit from Samarasinghe on November 17. Samarasinghe had promised to improve their conditions of detention.
After local and international press freedom groups expressed extreme concern about the move, two representatives from the Human Rights and Disaster Management Ministry reportedly visited the two men in prison and confirmed that they were not being held with other prisoners.
“The threats made to Jesiharan’s family make it even more imperative that Sri Lanka’s Government and authorities fulfill their responsibility to ensure no harm comes to Jesiharan, Valarmathi and Tissainayagam, nor to their families” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.
The IFJ joins the FMM in calling on Minister Samarasinghe to increase security for all three, and to investigate fully the threats against Jesiharan’s family and to ensure the perpetrator of the threats is brought to justice.