Sri Lanka Arrests Journalists for Tarnishing Government Image

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Sri Lankan police arrested three journalists for London-based Channel 4 television news Saturday on charges of tarnishing the image of government security forces, authorities said.

Police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera said the trio were arrested in the eastern city of Trincomalee on Saturday. He said investigations are continuing.

Nick Paton-Walsh, the channel's Asian correspondent, spoke to the Associated Press by telephone shortly after the arrest, saying that he was being driven to the capital, Colombo, along with producer Bessie Du and cameraman Matt Jasper.

The Channel 4 had been covering fierce fighting between government forces and the separatist Tamil Tigers.

Walsh said he believed the arrests were connected to his recent report on conditions for war refugees and alleged sexual abuse in camps for those who fled the northern war zone.

The report referred to claims of "shortages of food and water, dead bodies left where they have fallen, women separated from their families and even sexual abuse."

The government has denied the Channel 4 report.

In recent weeks, the government and aid groups have been struggling to cope with more than 120,000 civilians who fled the war zone, overwhelming displacement camps.

Media rights group have accused the government of carrying out a ruthless campaign against the media and dissidents amid the military's recent successes against rebels.

Government troops have ousted the Tamil Tigers — who once ran a de facto state in the north and east — from their northern strongholds in recent months, cornering them into a sliver of land just 2.4 miles (4 kilometers) long on the northeastern coast.

Journalists are still largely banned from the northern war zone, making it difficult for independent journalists to verify either government or rebel reports of the conflict. The government argues the area is too dangerous for noncombatants.

The government also has come under heavy criticism for a spate of attacks on and arrests of journalists viewed as critical of the offensive against the rebels. The government denies any hand in the suppression of journalists.

According to Amnesty International, at least 14 journalists and Sri Lankans working for media organizations have been killed since the beginning of 2006. Others have been detained, tortured or have disappeared. Amnesty says 20 more have fled the country because of death threats.

The rebels have been fighting since 1983 for a separate state for minority Tamils, who have suffered decades of marginalization at the hands of governments controlled by the Sinhalese majority.