Britain dodges questions on Sri Lanka's request to punish journalist (UPDATE)

By Athula Vithanage

(This story has been updated on Monday 25, June 2018 with a response from the British High Commission in Colombo.)

British authorities are silent on a damning news report about a top-level meeting with the Sri Lanka president on punitive action against an exiled journalist living in the UK.

Colombo based Sunday Times had reported that President Maithripala Sirisena made a request from High Commissioner James Dauris to either arrest or deport lankaenews Editor Sandaruwan Senadheera, who had fled Sri Lanka.

Access to the website has been blocked in Sri Lanka since November 2017, following a string of articles bringing the president to disrepute.

President Sirisena had made the request from High Commissioner Dauris in the presence of two high ranking officials.

"Among those present at the discussion were the President’s Coordinating Secretary Shiral Lakthilaka and Defence Secretary Kapila Waidyaratne," The Sunday Times reported.


The British foreign ministry and its high commission have either evaded or ignored repeated requests by JDS seeking answers.

Following the Sunday Times exposure on 10 June, JDS sought a response from Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Mark Field and the British high commission (BHC) in Colombo.

The mail sent on 11 June specifically asked whether British authorities are satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to return Pradeep Sandaruwan Senadheera to Sri Lanka.

Instead of providing their own version of the reported meeting, the BHC’s Communications Manager referred to a public denial by the Sri Lanka president's media division (PMD).

"The said news item is incorrect and falsely reports the said meeting, and no request was made for either deportation or arrest of the editor of the claimed website or any other person," said the PMD.

Strongly disputing the presidential denial, The Sunday Times of 11 June published further details reaffirming the factual accuracy of their story by adding further information on the controversial discussion between Sirisena and Dauris.

The English weekly reported how the president’s office had provided documentation, apparently to reinforce their request.

"The President’s staff also handed over to High Commissioner Dauris, a dossier of Sinhala reports, translated into English, published on the Lankae-News website," it said.

Drawing attention to the fresh information, JDS wrote to the British high commission in Colombo with a copy to the FCO giving an opportunity to tell their side of the story.

However, British authorities are yet to provide an answer.

The website Groundviews had revealed that the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) blocked access to within Sri Lanka following a directive from the president’s office.

BHC breaks silence

Following the publication of our story, the British High Commission in Colombo has told JDS that it does not comment "on the detail of leaked stories".

"The President's Media Division issued a statement on 11 June about the meeting clarifying that the President did not ask for specific law enforcement action," writes BHC Head of Political Team Neil Kavanagh, in a letter to JDS dated 22 June.

"You will understand that we do not comment on the detail of leaked stories. Notwithstanding that I can confirm that the High Commissioner and President Sirisena did discuss the importance of protecting media freedoms, amongst a range of issues of bilateral importance. The UK's position is well known and long-standing: freedom of expression exercised within the law is an essential quality of any functioning democracy," it further adds.☐



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.