Last updateTue, 17 Mar 2015 2pm

Sri Lanka police quiz BBC Tamil reporter as Foreign Minister condemns "Prejudiced" UN Rights report

A journalist attached to the BBC Tamil Service has been quizzed by police in Sri Lanka over a telephone conversation he had with two Tamil prisoners.

Journalist Ponnaiah Manickavasagam was questioned by anti-terror police in Colombo on Monday over his conversation with the prisoners who are said to be former LTTE cadres at the Lankan capital's notorious Welikada prison.

Reports say Mr Manickavasagam was not told the reason he was summoned for questioning and did not have a lawyer present.

The prison has long been used to house Tamil prisoners and has a reputation for violence; it was the scene of a massacre of Tamil political prisoners during the Black July riots of 1983 which led to full-scale Civil War on the Island.

Mr Manickavasagam is said to have told the officials that as a journalist he would receive calls from prisoners and their families. As many of these prisoners had been in custody for years, they generally discussed their grievances.

He said that he returned missed calls in accordance with his journalistic duties and that many people had access to his number.

Sri Lanka is one of the world's most dangerous places to be a journalist.

Earlier this year, the country was placed 162nd out of 179 in a Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders.

Mr Manickavasagam's questioning came a day after the country's Foreign Minister condemned a report by the UN Human Rights Commissioner which said that Sri Lanka was increasingly turning "authoritarian".

Minister GL Peiris told a Press Conference in London on Tuesday that Navi Pillay's report was "prejudiced".

Pillay was invited to visit Sri Lanka by the government last week and although she said she was allowed to travel freely, the Sri Lankans who came to meet her were "harassed and intimidated by security forces".

“The war may have ended, but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded,” Pillay said, citing the government’s move three years ago to abolish provisions for independent police, judiciary and human rights commissions, and give the president the power to appoint officials to the commissions.

Minister Peiris however, said the "tone and substance" of Ms Pillay's report showed a "distressing lack of balance".

While economic growth has continued apace on the Island since the end of the war in 2009 - Professor Peiris revealed that the government had already spent $3 billion in development in the war-ravaged north and east - the administration of President Mahinda Rajapakse has come under fire for stifling dissent and widespread corruption.



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