FMM E-Bulletin – January 2008

  • 1st January: Sri Lanka rated fifth deadliest in the word for journalists by IFJ
  • 1st January: Defense Ministry attacks an English daily
  • 2nd January: Para-military group threatens a journalist
  • 2nd January: Three journalists receive death threats
  • 4th January: Army commander denounces sections of media as “traitors”
  • 5th January: Leading media trade union activists receive death threats
  • 7th January: Government Minister accuses leading journalist of promoting terrorism
  • 7th January: Police attempt to abduct a senior journalist
  • 9th January: Court defends journalists’ right to take photographs
  • 9th January: Attempts to silence “Jaffna” daily Uthayan
  • 10th January: Journalist stabbed
  • 16th January: Journalist assaulted by a politician
  • 19th January: Rumors will be dealt with punishment – MCNS
  • 23rd January: Journalists abused by police and civic police
  • 25th January: Journalist knifed following death threats
  • 27th January: Defense Secretary favours censorship and criminalising defamation
  • 28th January: Unofficial censorship prevails
  • 28th January: Associate Editor stabbed
  • 30th January: Popular column dropped under government pressure
  • 30th January: Journalist followed
  • 30th January: Armed men break into journalist’s home
  • 30th January: Newsreader who stood up against Government MP’s thuggery suspended
  • 31st January: CID to question 16 SLRC journalists


1st January:  Sri Lanka rated fifth deadliest in the word for journalists by IFJ

Sri Lanka was listed as one of the six most unsafe places for journalists in the annual survey conducted by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) with six recorded deaths in a year that saw 171 journalists worldwide being recorded as dead or killed. The IFJ in its survey released on December 31 declared the year 2007 as a year of “tragedy unlimited” with violence against journalists reaching extreme levels for the third year in succession, and recording 171 confirmed deaths. The figures have been compiled in cooperation with the International News Safety Institute (INSI).

1st January:   Defense Ministry attacks an English daily
The Defense ministry website (www.defense.lk) in an article contradicting a news item published by the Daily Mirror labeled it as anti state newspaper:

“The Daily Mirror, a Sri Lankan English daily continuing on its sordid media operation against the Defence Ministry and the armed forces; Yet, they still may be aware that all these self assumed “Watch Dogs” always have a loud “Bark” but a little “Bite”. Today, media is nothing more than a big business and gone are the days when the news media simply informed. Selling lies for money also comes under media freedom!!!”

2nd January: Para-military group threatens a journalist
Para-military cadres working for a political party threatened journalists Mahanumi Suburamaniyam of Vavuniya when he was covering a claymore bomb attack. They threatened him not to cover the incident, and chased him away from the hospital. Para-military groups run military out posts in northern Sri Lanka in close collaboration with the State security forces. On 9th January an unidentified vehicle was parked in front of his residence for an hour.

2nd January: Three journalists receive death threats
It was reported that underworld gangs have been ordered kill or harm some senior journalists for their involvement in protests held in response to the outrageous behaviour of government Minister Mervyn de Silva in December 2007. Three leading media personnel of the MTV and MBC TV-Radio network who covered the incident extensively – the head of MTV, Chevaan Daniel; Sirasa director Kingsley Ratnayaka; and Sirasa news director Susil Kedelpitya – filed complaints with the Maharagama police over death threats they have recently received.

4th January: Army commander denounces sections of media, as “traitors”
The commander of the Sri Lankan army, Major General Sarath Fonseka, labeled sections of the media and journalists “traitors” in an interview published in the state-controlled Sinhala daily “Dinamina” on 2 January 2008. Fonseka said:

“The biggest obstacle is the unpatriotic media. I am not blaming all journalists. I know 99 percent of media and journalists are patriotic and doing their jobs properly. But unfortunately, we have a small number of traitors among the journalists. They are the biggest obstacle. All other obstacles we can surmount.”

5th January: Leading unionists receive death threats
Media organizations had received credible information that Sanath Balasuriya, president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Dharmasiri Lankapeli, general secretary of the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU), and a number of other senior journalists, trade union and media activists may also be targeted for assassination in relation to the SLRC incident related to Minister Mervyn de Silva.

7th January: Government Minister accuses leading journalist of promoting terrorism
Minister of Social Services and Social Welfare, Mr. K. N. Douglas Devananda, leveled inflammatory accusations against the “Minnal” programme on Shakthi TV and against its host, Sri Ranga Jeyarathnam. In response to a TV talk show featuring the late parliamentarian Mr. T. Maheshvaran, the minister called Mr. Sri Ranga “a traitor” and accused him of working for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in “conspiring with the LTTE to promote terrorism”.

7th January: Police attempt to abduct a senior journalist
In an apparent abduction attempt, the Sri Lanka Police tried to enter the residence of senior journalist Poddala Jayantha during the early hours of 7th January. Poddala Jayantha, is the general secretary of largest organisation of journalists in the country, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association. At around 3 a.m. on 7th January, a group of persons came in two vehicles to Poddala Jayantha’s house. They were dressed in civilian clothes and demanded entry, saying they were from the police and wanted some information. Jayantha’s wife refused to open the door as press freedom defenders and some senior journalists had been receiving death threats over the preceding two weeks.

9th January: Court defends journalists’ right to take photographs

Joseph Fernando, a freelance journalist working in Mannar district was prevented by Navy taking photographs of an event where Navy personnel were taking family photographs of residents  in  the area. Navy handed over him to police and he was forced to erase all the photos by the Police. Joseph made a complaint about this at the police station. The issue was taken up at the court on 10th of Jan 08. The judge ordered navy to stop taking family photographs of residents. Further, the judge warned the police personnel who forced Joseph to erase the photos and ordered the police to submit the camera to the court in cases police consider photographs are threat to national security.

9th January: Attempts to silence “Jaffna” daily Uthayan
Mr. E. Saravanapavan, managing director of the Uthayan publications told FMM that a threat had been made over the phone, and the caller is alleged to have told the staff member who answered the call that the newspaper must stop functioning immediately. The threatening phone call had been made to the newspaper office on 6 January 2008 around 10.45 a.m. (local time). When the staff member inquired about the caller’s identity, he was told it was the Kayts police station. A complaint was filed with the Jaffna Police on 8 January.

10th January: Journalist stabbed
Bingiriya provincial journalist Mr. Victor Somaweera was stabbed and threatened by an individual who pointed a pistol at his head on 10 January 2008. He was admitted to Bingiriya Hospital on the same day for the injuries sustained on account of this incident. The journalist has identified the perpetrators and in his statement but police did not arrest them. Alleged perpetrators have strong connections to those who control illegal river sand mining which had been exposed by the journalist.

16th January: Journalist assaulted by a politician
Journalist U.S.A. Bandara was threatened and assaulted by a ruling party politician while covering the aftermath of an attack on a civilian bus, which took place around 7:00 a.m. (local time) on 16 January 2008 in Okkampitiya, Monaragala. At least 27 passengers were killed and more than 50 persons were injured as the result of the attack. Bandara, a provincial correspondent television channel SIRASA, was covering the tragedy when politician Sarath Welihena and village officer Lalith Rajapaksha verbally abused him and said that he should stop covering the event.

19th January:  Rumors will be dealt with punishment – MCNS

In a statement issued Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) warned that any rumors including SMS text massaging regarding the war situation will be dealt with severely. Media circles were of the view that this latest edict by the MCNS would be abused to censor news related to war in the coming months.

23rd January: Journalists abused by police and civic police
TV journalist Indika Sri Aravinda who was filming pedestrians crossing a main street near Colombo was arrested by civic police blamed as a Tiger suspect (LTTE member) and handed over to Mount Lavinia police. Police officers scolded Aravinda saying that it is journalists who make trouble in the country and questioned kept him for two hours before releasing him. Although he showed them his media accreditation card, civic police did not accept his identification.

25th January: Journalist knifed following death threats
Journalist Lal Hemantha Mawalage was cut with a sharp knife on the night of 25 January 2008 in Athurigiriya, a suburb of Colombo. Mawalage was on his way home at around 11.00 p.m. (local time) by two men on a motorcycle, who were laying in wait for him. Mawalage is a producer in the news division of the state-controlled television station, SLRC. On 27 December 2007, Labour Minister Mervyn de Silva stormed into the television station with a group of thugs associated with the underworld and assaulted its news director. Journalist Mawalage was among those who spoke live on behalf of SLRC employees as the whole SLRC staff protested against the minister’s intrusion.

27th January: Defense Secretary favours censorship and criminalising defamation
The brother of the Sri Lankan President, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksha, in an interview with a Sunday newspaper openly stated that media has to be censored and that criminal defamation law should be brought back. Rajapaksha also named two leading media institutions that, in his opinion, have to be prosecuted for their critical reportage:
I say without fear that if I have the power I will not allow any of these things to be written. I told the President that we need to exercise press censorship from the beginning.. We need a criminal defamation law.

28th January: Unofficial censorship prevails

Government ministers and officials phoned newspapers, TV and radio channels to ask not to carry the news of 16 dead bodies that were found in Kebithgollawa, Anuradhaura district in a mass   grave. Accordingly, Sri Lankan Sinhala media did not report the story prominently.  The same method was used to down play the news of claymore attack on a school bus, which killed 12 students, 3 teachers 5 civilians. LTTE blamed the Sri Lankan Army Deep Penetration Units for the attack, a charge the government denied.  The story was not reported with due prominence by Sinhala language media.

28th January: Associate Editor stabbed
The associate editor of the state-controlled Tamil daily “Thinakaran”, Suhaib M Kasim, was stabbed at his home in Colombo around 8:30 p.m. (local time) on 28 January 2008. He was admitted to Colombo national hospital for treatment. Five people entered his house, forcibly took him to the veranda, and stabbed him in the abdomen. The Chairman of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited transferred Kasim from his post of associate editor on Saturday 26 January. Kasim had received death threats related to this transfer. According to his family and colleagues he didn’t have any other problems that could have led to this incident.

30th January:  Popular column dropped under government pressure
Popular political column by veteran journalist Upul Joseph Fernando in a best selling Sinhala language daily was dropped on 30th Thursday.  According to LankaeNews   it was censored for its critical comments towards Defense Secretary.  A regular column by the same journalists was dropped from then popular Sinhala weekly Maubima in 2006 under pressure from the government.

30th January: Journalist followed by vehicles
A car and a motorbike followed investigative journalist Lasantha Ruhunage of the “Sinhala Ravaya” newspaper for more than 30 minutes on 29 January 2008, attempting to hit him from behind. This incident took place between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. (local time) while he was on his way home after work.

30th January: armed men break into journalist’s home
Two persons armed with pistols entered the house of media worker Duleep Dushantha of the state-owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) on the night of 29 January. As he was not in the house at the time, they threatened his mother with death if she informed police of the incident. Duleep was prominent in the agitation against the brutish behaviour of government minister Mervyn de Silva, who, on 27 December 2007, stormed into the SLRC and assaulted its news director. The threats against Duleep Dushantha are very likely linked to his role in the agitation.

30th January: State employed newsreader critical of Government MP’s brutish thuggery fired
Journalist Dushantha Darshana who read the live news critical of the minister Mervyn de Silva when he stormed in to Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC) was asked to hand over his cooperation ID card and leave the premises by authorities. Dushantha, a part-time newsreader has worked in SLRC more than 10 months.

31st January: CID to question 16 SLRC journalists
In another twist to the alleged Rupavahini Corporation assault incident, involving Minister Mervyn Silva on December 27, 2007, the Criminal Investigation Department is to interrogate 21 employees of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.  The CID, in a letter addressed to SLRC Director General Sisira Kotalawela, had named 21 employees, including 16 journalists, who are to be questioned regarding the incident involving Mr. Mervyn Silva. Journalist trade unions have taken up the issue with relevant authorities.

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