The arrest of the ‘blogger’ in Sri Lanka: Crowd-sourcing trumps traditional media follow up

Ayubowan, a blog I didn’t know of before, helpfully posted a screen grab of a post from Gossip Lanka, a blog I also didn’t know of before, on the recent arrest of a ‘blogger’ in Sri Lanka that had many concerned. Gossip Lanka’s post is in Sinhala and doesn’t render at all on my Mac, which is why Ayubowan’s screen grab is helpful. The post avers in Sinhala that,

A few days ago, a derogatory email, also containing five nude photos, were sent to the Secretary of Defense and the President. Resulting CID investigations probed the IP address to ascertain the sender. It was discovered that the email was sent from a cybercafe in Matale. Based upon further investigations, the Police were able to apprehend the individual who was a regular customer of the cybercafe and owned the account used to send the email. However, the suspect vehemently denied he had sent the email in question. “This must have been done by someone to set me up” he said. The Police then asked who this could be. It was then the suspect said that his password was with his former girlfriend, who was not on good terms with him.

The Police then questioned the suspect’s girlfriend, who let known in her fear that she had given the password to her new boyfriend. She also told Police that her new boyfriend had set out to teach her old boyfriend a lesson.

Gayan Rajapakse is the name of her new boyfriend, and he admitted that he had sent the email. He will be in remand till the 6th under the instructions of the Matale District Courts.

This version is corroborated, also in Sinhala, by Web Alochana, an identity I read and trust. As Web Alochana notes, it is still not clear what the exact nature of the threat to the Defense Secretary and the President was.

It is not yet confirmed whether Gayan Rajapakse is a blogger, though he could still turn out to be one. His actions deservedly put him in the hands of the law and cannot be condoned. However, sending an email is emphatically not the same as publishing “offensive and defamatory comments regarding the President and the Secretary of Defense through a website he was operating”, which is what the Daily Mirror first reported and in turn gave rise to fears that a blogger had been arrested in the context of Sri Lanka’s atrocious media freedom. The Daily Mirror’s follow up story the day after also failed to mention that the suspect had been arrested over an email.

There has been to my knowledge no further reporting by the Daily Mirror on this incident. Leading Sri Lankan bloggers, justifiably alarmed, wrote a number of posts such as this one by Indi Samarajiva to find out more information on the incident that were also picked up by Global Voices Online. And it’s on comment threads on these posts, and on the blogosphere, that the incident was probed deeper and a more comprehensive account determined.

It’s an interesting model of crowd-sourcing a story, and one that the Daily Mirror and other traditional print media are well advised to study. The Guardian in England has already shown how this works to hold government accountable.

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