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Sri Lanka arrests astrologer over political prediction

COLOMBO (Reuters) - A popular Sri Lankan astrologer was unable to foresee his own arrest after his family said on Friday he had been taken into custody by police for making an unfavourable political prediction against the president.

The police Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrested astrologer Chandrasiri Bandara after he predicted political changes unfavourable to President Mahinda Rajapaksa at a meeting of the main opposition United National Party.

“He is being questioned over a political statement he made,” police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekara said, without elaborating.

Given that many Sri Lankans give credence to astrological predictions, astrologers can play a role in influencing decisions at the voting booth and have done so in the past.

Sri Lankans from all walks of life follow astrology very closely, and politicians frequently consult personal astrologers to help them decide the most auspicious day, hour and minute to do anything from facing elections to assuming office.

Bandara writes a popular astrology column, hosts TV and radio shows discussing horoscopes and gives private readings for a fee.

“He has been questioned for the last three days and he was taken into custody by the CID,” a family member told Reuters, asking not to be named out of fear of reprisal.

Rajapaksa’s opponents say his administration has been intolerant of criticism, and has not stopped assaults and murders of journalists critical of his government. Rajapaksa has vowed to catch those responsible.

This week, a coalition of media and rights groups urged him to reconsider a decision to reinstate the long-unused Press Council, which has the power to jail and fine journalists.

“A media culture cannot be based on slapping charges against journalists, fining them or sending them to jail,” the group said in a statement.

The government said the move was made on a parliamentary committee recommendation that it should be reinstated since the council’s staff and office rent was still being paid despite the fact it was doing no work.

“It was a directive by a parliamentary committee which some opposition members are also on,” said A. Dissanayake, secretary of the Ministry of Mass Media and Information.

Sri Lanka has a decades-long history of violence against journalists, with killings, abductions and assaults being carried out and the perpetrators rarely being captured.

Dozens of journalists have fled Sri Lanka after receiving threats by unidentified groups since the end of the 25-year war against the Tamil Tiger separatists last month.

Security officials have warned they will arrest and prosecute for treason journalists they say have been on the Tigers’ payroll in the last few years of the war.