5 February 2008
A number of journalists in Sri Lanka have received death threats in the wake of knife attacks on two journalists in the past eleven days. Lal Hemantha Mawalage, a leading news producer with the state-run Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), was stabbed in the southern city of Athurugiriya on the night of Friday 25 January.
Four days later, the Colombo-based Free Media Movement reported that five persons entered the Colombo home of Suhaib M Kasim, the associate editor of the Sri Lankan state-owned Tamil daily Thinakaran. They forcibly took him to his veranda and stabbed him in his abdomen.
Since the attack, another SLRC staff-member has reported to the police that he was threatened at gun point. Duleep Sanjeewa told police in Kollupitiya in Colombo that two armed men threatened him with death at his home at the end of January.
Police in Colombo are investigating an incident where a car and a motorcycle followed a Ravaya newspaper journalist on the night of Tuesday, 29 January. Lasantha Ruhunage complained to the police that he was followed on his way home from work.
The threats come against a background of increased conflict in Sri Lanka following the collapse of the ceasefire between the government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). A bomb attack in Welioya, 120 miles north of Colombo on 4 February killed 12 civilians and wounded 17 others.
This attack is the latest in a long line that have targeted and killed civilians. On 3 February, at least 11 people were killed in a suicide attack at the main railway station in Colombo, while on 1 February a bomb on a bus killed 20 people, mostly Buddhist pilgrims, en-route to Anuradhapura.
On 29 January, a claymore mine attack on a bus in Mannar District killed 11 schoolchildren.
Official censorship and self-censorship are fuelling a dangerous cycle of rumours and misinformation. In the absence of independent monitors in the north and east, it is impossible to verify or refute claims or abuses from both sides to the conflict who blame each other.
Journalists in Sri Lanka play an important role in reporting on the conflict and exposing human rights violations that have occurred. Journalists in the South of the country also play an important role exposing corruption among politicians and the military.
“Independent reporting on what is happening in Sri Lanka is vital whether this is covering abuses within the worsening conflict or exposing issues of corruption and abuse of power,” said Tim Parritt, Deputy Director of Asia Pacific. “Increasingly frequent attacks on journalists and a climate of impunity for the perpetrators are a matter of serious concern.”
Amnesty International will launch a major report on the attacks on freedom of expression and journalists in Sri Lanka on Thursday, 7 February.