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Signs of media repression: A journalist followed and another media worker threatened

30th January 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The FMM with regret and foreboding notes that threats and intimidation of journalists continue in Sri Lanka, with two more disturbing cases reported today.

A car and a motorbike followed investigative journalist Lasantha Ruhunage of the Sinhala Ravaya newspaper for more than 30 minutes yesterday, attempting to hit him from behind. This incident took place between 6.00- 6.30 pm on 29th January while he was on his way home after work. Lasantha told the FMM that he tried his best to evade the car that was following him but it almost hit him while he was negotiating a bend. He made a complaint to Mirihana police on the incident this afternoon.

Lasantha wrote a series of investigative reports on the internal political rift of the JVP (Peoples Liberation Front) during last two weeks in the Ravaya newspaper. On 29th January a former leader of the JVP, Samantha Katipearachchi complained to the judiciary that he is facing death threats from the JVP for leaking the information to the press on the internal rift. The FMM strongly suspects the reason to inflict harm upon Lasantha by way of an accident is on accont of his recent articles on the JVP.

In another incident, two persons armed with a pistol entered the house of media worker Duleep Dushantha of the state owned SLRC (Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation) on the night of 29th January. As he was not in the house at that time they threatened his mother with death if she informed the police of the incident.

Duleep was prominent in the agitation against the brutish behaviour of Government Minister Mervyn de Silva on 27th December 2007, when he stormed in to the SLRC and assaulted its News Director. We note in this regard that fellow journalist Hemantha Mawalage, a News Producer of SLRC who spoke on behalf of the enraged SLRC staff on the day of the Ministers violent intrusion was also attacked with sharp knife on January 25th night and is still under medical treatment. The FMM has received credible information that underworld gangs have launched a witch hunt for leading media personal who played key role in the agitation. Threats against Duleep Dushantha are very likely to be linked to his role in the agitation.

Both incidents show that media and journalists in the South of Sri Lanka are under unprecedented siege by various anti-democratic forces. Threats and intimidation from those in the Government and their private militia have become a daily occurrence that the Police and the Government are unable and unwilling to stop.

The culture of impunity that prevails is evident in the fact that the Inspector General of Police, Victor Perera, has failed even to acknowledge a joint letter handed over to him by leading editors, newspaper owners and media organizations on 10th December 2007 requesting him to speed up investigations related to offenses against media personnel and journalists.

FMM strongly urges the Government to look in to theses incidents immediately and take remedial measures that will address this dramatic and seemingly unstoppable erosion of media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

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