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Joint communication sent to the Government concerning journalist and human rights defender Dharisha Bastians

A response by the Government to the communication has been received

On 13 July 2020, together with the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of opinion and expression, extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and the right to privacy, we sent a communication to the Government of Sri Lanka concerning allegations of harassment of the journalist and women human rights defender Ms Dharisha Bastians. This communication, along with the response from the Government, can now be made public.

Ms Bastians is the former editor in chief of the Sunday Observer newspaper and a reporter for the New York Times. She has written extensively on human rights, extrajudicial killings, corruption and impunity.

According to the information received:

Since December 2019, Ms Bastains had been subjected to several acts of harassment allegedly connected to her journalist work.

This had included:

  • the seizure of the journalist and human rights defender's personal computer by the Criminal Investigation Department on 9 June 2020.

  • the attempted seizure without warrant of her computer on 29 May and 4 June 2020

  • the access of her call records by the Criminal Investigation Department without a court order and their subsequent exposure

  • summons and alleged reprisals against her family members

All of the incidents in question were reportedly linked to an ongoing investigation into the alleged abduction of a staff member of the Swiss diplomatic mission in Colombo in November 2019.

In our communication, we expressed concern that the pursuit of Ms Bastians in connection to the alleged abduction was an effort to discredit her journalistic work in the defence of human rights, as well as concern as to the alleged violation of her right to privacy through the reportedly unlawful seizure and subsequent exposure of her call records. 

The full communication is available here: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=25415

A response by the Government was received on 11 September 2020. It is available here: https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadFile?gId=35558

In the response, the Government confirmed that the actions against Ms Bastians had been made in connection to the alleged abduction at the diplomatic mission in November 2019. They stated that investigations had proved the complaint of the alleged abduction to be false, and that the complaint had been made to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka with respect to the rule of law.

They suggested that all actions against Ms Bastians had been taken in relation to this allegedly false complaint, with the objective of examining “material central to the investigation”, and that they had been taken in accordance with the law.

A question addressed to the Government in the communication concerning safeguards in place over any State entity carrying out surveillance went unanswered in Government's response, as did a question concerning measures taken to ensure journalists and human rights defenders are able to carry out their work in a safe and enabling environment in the country.

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