Reporters Without Borders Annual Report 2008 – Chapter on the deterioration of media freedom in Sri Lanka


Sri Lanka – Annual report 2008 

Read the original here and download the report in Tamil here.

Bolstered by military victories in the east of the country, the government of Mahinda Rajapakse, backed up by his brother, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse, has vowed to inflict military defeat on the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) who have stepped up attacks on Sinhala civilians and threats against journalists whom they consider to be in cahoots with the authorities. Security forces supported by militia have sown terror in Tamil areas, carrying out many extra-judicial executions, kidnappings and threats. Despite international condemnation, the government has used the fight against terrorism to justify this “dirty war”. The Tamil press has been badly affected by this strategy that is aimed at dissuading the Tamil population from supporting the LTTE.

In the capital Colombo, the government, allied to ultra-nationalists of the right and the left, cracked down on independent press groups, closing a radio network and publications in Sinhala. Officials have made frequent statements hostile to press freedom activists and investigative journalists, forcing the best known of them, Iqbal Athas, to temporarily flee the country.

Access to conflict zones is virtually impossible for journalists and the war of words and statistics between the government and the LTTE spilled over into the press. This was the case in January when the army vaunted the success of its bombardment of an LTTE military base in Padahuthurai, eastern Sri Lanka. But the Tamil Tigers said that 15 civilians had been killed in the attack, which they claimed had not hit any military objective. Since no independent journalist was able to reach the scene, the majority of the Sinhala and English language press in Colombo carried the government account without being able to check it, while Tamil news websites and media carried news and footage put out by LTTE.

The government, ever more resistant to international pressure, refused to allow UN observers into the country and summoned several ambassadors who had expressed opinions about human rights in the country. The national human rights commission is so lacking in independence that it lost its international status in 2007. Since March it has been preventing its offices from providing information to the media on certain cases.

Terror in Jaffna

The northern Jaffna Peninsula, where Tamils are in the majority and which the army directly administers, has become a nightmare for journalists, human rights activists and civilians in general. A wave of murders, kidnappings, threats and censorship has made it one of the most dangerous places in the world for the press. Two journalists were killed there during the year, two more kidnapped and at least three media have been the victims of direct attacks on them. Scores of journalists have fled the region and others have chosen to abandon the profession altogether.

The Tamil militia of the Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) who back the security forces in their fight against the LTTE, have been implicated in many violent episodes. Their leader, Douglas Devananda, is also social affairs minister. In the east, a militia formed from a group that broke away from the LTTE has sowed terror.

A gunman on a motorbike killed a young reporter, Selvarajah Rajivarnam, who was riding his bike near the office of Jaffna’s biggest selling daily Uthayan at the end of April. He covered criminal cases, going into police stations and the hospital to obtain information about murders and disappearances. Several sources in Jaffna said members of the EPDP could be behind the killing. Also in April, the editor of local magazine Nilam, Chandrabose Suthaharan, was murdered at his home in the government-controlled town of Vavuniya in northern Sri Lanka. Police have failed to find the killers.

Two armed men who arrived on a motorbike burst into the home of journalism student Sahathevan Nilakshan, three kilometres from Jaffna on 2 August and shot him several times, leaving him fatally wounded. He was also a member of the management of a Tamil-language magazine Chaa’laram, linked to the student federation in Jaffna district. Another journalist, Kangarajan Prashanthan, working for the nationalist Tamil-language paper Navadu Eelandu until its closure in 2006, might easily have been killed in October but gunmen murdered his twin brother in a mistaken identity attack.

Two journalists disappeared

Sri Lanka holds the record for the greatest number of disappearances reported to the UN. Among them are two Jaffna journalists: Subramaniam Ramachandran, a journalist on Thinakural, who has not been seen since February after being arrested by the army; and Vadivel Nimalarajah, a sub editor on Uthayan, who was abducted from the street, after spending the night working at his office.

Neither of these disappearances has been seriously investigated, despite government promises and the identification of some suspects. Similarly, the killing of two staff in a bloody attack on the offices of Uthayan in May 2006, went un-investigated by police, even though the paper’s management provided the authorities with the name of a suspect, Valluvan, a militant in the pro-government EPDP militia. However witnesses, quoted by Uthayan, saw Valluvan in 2007 in the administration offices in Jaffna.

Tamils deprived of independent news

Throughout the year, the government and its allies have tried to block the flow of independent sources of news in Tamil. Those living in the north and east of the country, already isolated by the war, have also been gradually deprived of media not affiliated either to the government or an armed group. For their part, the LTTE increased their surveillance of Tamil journalists, threatening those who dare to criticise them openly. And the media in the areas in which they control are forced to relay the movement’s belligerent propaganda.

Some staff on Uthayan live spend time holed up in their offices in the centre of Jaffna. One journalist lived there permanently in 2007 for fear of being killed in the street. “We had 120 staff, of whom 20 were journalists, before August 2006. Now there are only 55 of whom five are journalists, who are prepared to face up to the risks”, editor M. V. Kaanamylnaatha said in June when he welcomed Reporters Without Borders to his Jaffna office.

Until May the Jaffna press went through huge problems to obtain essential supplies. The regions three titles were being asphyxiated by the authorities, who from August 2006 onwards refused to allow ink and newsprint on the list of goods that could be delivered to Jaffna. Despite their growing popularity, Uthayan, Yarl Thinakural and Valampuri were forced to drastically reduce their pagination and circulation. Finally after pressure, mostly from abroad, the army lifted its embargo and stock was able to arrive from the capital by boat.

The information ministry decided on 25 October to suspend the licences of five radio stations – Sun FM, Gold FM, Hiru FM, Shaa FM and Surayan FM – belonging to the privately-owned Asia Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) group for putting out a news item that turned out to be wrong. It was the president in person who ordered the investigation. The ABC group, several hundred of whose staff lost their jobs because of the closures, had always stood up to the authorities. The director of the Tamil-language Surayan FM was kidnapped in Colombo in 2006. In January 2008, the government opened new negotiations with the ABC management, which asked some employees to return to work.

The English-language news website Tamilnet, which is very popular because it often provides exclusive news about the situation in the LTTE-controlled areas, was blocked by the country’s Internet service providers on 15 June. A bullet to the head had killed the website’s director, Dharmeratnam Sivaram “Taraki”, in April 2005 in Colombo. The authorities once again in 2007 blocked an investigation that had begun with the arrest of a suspect, a member of a pro-government Tamil party.

One by one Tamil correspondents for the national and international press have been leaving the north and east and sometimes the country, after receiving threats. When a Reporters Without Borders’ representative was in Jaffna in June, the correspondent for the Associated Press received a text message and a call from a satellite phone telling him it was his last warning before his execution. He left Jaffna the following day.

“I have never seen anything like it. Even in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, foreign journalists had more freedom of movement”, a journalist working for Agence France-Presse told Reporters Without Borders after returning from reporting in Jaffna. He had only been allowed to visit the city accompanied by a military escort and had not been able to interview a single resident. A British television film crew was in October also prevented from working in the peninsula, even though they had obtained permission from the defence ministry. Soldiers forced the three journalists to stay at the Palaly military bases and escorted them round Jaffna for two hours before telling them to return to Colombo.

In its war against the LTTE, the army at the end of November bombed the installations of the movement’s official radio, near Killinochchi in the north. Nine civilians, three of them station staff, were killed and around a dozen more were injured. The radio Voice of Tigers is certainly a propaganda radio run by the LTTE, but the attack violates rules of engagement that restrict military bombing to strictly military targets.

By contrast, the pressure brought to bear by the LTTE was less visible than that of the authorities, but was every bit as effective. The separatist movement has never hesitated to go after dissidents within the Tamil community and the press is no exception to this rule. The head of a Tamil media explained: “We know that the reaction of the LTTE can also be potentially harmful for our staff, so we are very careful. We weigh every word when we talk about the LTTE and the army. And naturally we never refer to the Tigers as terrorists”. The LTTE intelligence services often summon or call Tamil journalists when they want them to provide them with information.

Officials turned into gang leaders

Some ministers behave like gang leaders. Labour minister, Mervyn Silva, arrived with his henchmen at the offices of the state-run television Rupavahini, in Colombo, in December, and ordered one of his men to beat the news editor because he had failed to broadcast a speech he just made while formally opening a new bridge. Police were forced to intervene and the minister left the building under a hail of insults.

The same minister had in January incited his supporters to physically attack journalists, including a BBC correspondent, who were covering a peaceful rally. He said in April that “journalists behave like mad dogs and they have to be injected against rabies”.

The defence secretary and younger brother of the president, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, in April called the editor of the Daily Mirror, Champika Liyanaarachchi, on his mobile phone and threatened her, saying that she would escape reprisals only if she resigned. He said he would put pressure on the newspaper’s management to ensure she was dismissed. He also threatened to “exterminate” the journalist Uditha Jayasinghe, for writing articles about the plight of civilian war casualties. Security forces on two occasions also accused the Daily Mirror of betraying the country.

Obstacles increasingly put in the way of investigative journalism

The prominent investigative journalist Iqbal Athas and several of his colleagues on the Sunday Times were in August victims of a campaign of harassment orchestrated by army officers wanting to silence them after revelations about the purchase of MIG-27 warplanes from Ukraine. The government staged demonstrations outside the home of Iqbal Athas in Colombo accusing him of being a “traitor”. After his police protection was removed, Athas left the country for several weeks and suspended his column that specialised in military affairs.

An article posted on the defence ministry website on 2 October accused the journalist of taking part in “psychological operations by the LTTE terrorists”. A few days earlier, after Athas had just resumed his column in the Sunday Times, army spokesman, Brigadier Udaya Nanayakakara, called on the media to stop publishing his articles.

The authorities also sponsored an arson attack in November on the printers of the Leader Publications group, sending in around 15 men, with the complicity of the army, who mistreated two staff before spraying machines with petrol and torching them. The group publishes the English-language weeklies the Sunday Leader and Morning Leader, the Sinhala-language weekly Irudina and prints the Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli. The raiders destroyed thousands of copies of the Morning Leader which were due for distribution that morning. The editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga, known for his investigations and critical editorials, condemned the attack as a commando operation backed by the government.

The few Tamil journalists who tried to carry out investigative work were also targeted. In August, Kalimuttu Palamohan, known as K. P. Mohan, a specialist in military affairs for the Tamil-language daily Thinakkural, had acid thrown at him as he returned to his home in Colombo. Soldiers had attacked the journalist two months earlier. “When I showed them my press card they insulted me and then called other colleagues who beat me”, K. P. Mohan said about the first incident.

Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.© Reporters Without Borders 2008


පොලිස්පතිට ලිපියක්

ශ්‍රී ලංකා වෘත්තීය පත්‍රකලාවේදීන්ගේ සංගමය (SLWJA)
මාධ්‍යසේවක වෘත්තීය සමිති සම්මේලනය (FMETU)
ශ්‍රී ලංකා මුස්ලිම් ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ සංසදය (SLMMF)
ශ්‍රී ලංකා දෙමළ ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ සන්ධානය (SLTJA)
නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය (FMM)  
පොලිස්පති තුමා,
පොලිස් මූලස්ථානය,
කොළඹ – 01
ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන් මුහුණ දී සිටින දුෂ්කරතාවයන් පිළිබඳව දැන්වීම
ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මාධ්‍ය ක්‍ෂේත්‍රයේ සේවයේ නියුතු ඡායාරූප මාධ්‍යවේදීන් වත්මන් තත්ත්වය තුළ තම කටයුතු කරගෙන යාමේදී මුහුණ දී සිටින දුෂ්කරතාවක් රැසක් පිළිබඳව ඔබගේ අවධානය යොමු කර වීමට  කැමැත්තෙමු.  වත්මන් තත්ත්වය තුළ මහජන ආරක්ෂාව පිළිබඳව නිසි සැළකිල්ල දක්වන අතරම ප්‍රජාතන්ත්‍රවාදී සමාජයක ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීන් සතු අයිතීන් උල්ලංඝනය විමට ඉඩ නොතැබිය යුතු බව අපේ විශ්වාසය යි.
පෙබරවාරි 12 වනදා කොළඹ ඉසිපතන විදුහල අසල ඡායාරූප ගැනීමක යෙදුණු ඇසෝෂියේටඩ් ප්‍රේස් ජාත්‍යන්තර ප්‍රවෘත්ති සේවයට අනුබද්ධව කටයුතු කරන ඡායාරූප ශිල්පී ගැමුණු අමරසිංහ මහතාට බාධා කළ සිවිල් ආරක්ෂක කම්ටුවේ පිරිසක් ඔහු ඡායාරූප ගැනීමෙන් වළක්වා පොලිස් නිලධාරීන් වෙත භාරදී තිබේ. කොළඹ නාරහේන්පිට පොලීසිය වෙත කැඳවාගෙන යනු ලැබූ අමරසිංහ මහතා නිදහස් කර ගැනීමට මාධ්‍ය සංවිධාන වල නායකයන් සහ ඡායාරූප මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ සංගම් වල නියෝජිතයන් කිහිප දෙනෙකුට මැදිහත් වීමට සිදු විය. අමරසිංහ මහතා පැය දෙකක පමණ කාලයක් නිකරුණේ පොලීසියේ රඳවා තබා ගැණිනි.
පසුගිය ජනවාරි 23 දා රත්මලාන ජල සම්පාදන මණ්ඩලයේ ප්‍රධාන කාර්යාලය අබියස දී වීඩියෝ කැමරාගත කිරීමක නියුක්තව සිටි ‛දෙරණ’ රූපවාහිනී සේවයේ මාධ්‍යවේදියකු වන ඉන්දික ශ්‍රී අරවින්ද මහතා වට කරගත් සිවිල් ආරක්ෂක කම්ටුවේ පිරිසක් ඒ මහතාගේ කටයුතුවලට බාධා කරමින්, ඒ මහතාට තර්ජනය කිරීමේ සිද්ධියක්  ද සිදු වී තිබේ. පසුව එහි පැමිණි පොලිස් නිලධාරීන් විසින් අරවින්ද මහතා ගල්කිස්ස පොලිස් ස්ථානයට කැඳවා ගෙන යනු ලැබූ බවත් එහිදී එම පොලිසියේ කාර්ය භාර ප්‍රධානියකු ඒ මහතාට අවිනීත ලෙස කථා කළ බවත් අරවින්ද මහතා අප වෙත දන්වා තිබේ. පැය දෙකකට අධික කාලයක් නිකරුණේ පොලීසියෙහි රඳවා තබාගන්නා ලද ඔහු පසුව නිදහස් කරනු ලැබ ඇත්තේ ඔහුට එරෙහිව චෝදනාවක් නැති බව කියමිනි.
මෙම සිද්ධීන් දෙකේ දීම මාධ්‍යවේදීන් තම අනන්‍යතාවත්, ප්‍රවෘත්ති අධ්‍යක්‍ෂ වරයාගේ අත්සනින් ප්‍රවෘත්ති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවෙන් නිකුත් කරනු ලැබූ හැඳුනුම්පතත් අදාළ නිලධාරීන් වෙත ඉදිරිපත් කරනු ලැබුවත් ඔවුහු ඒවා පිළිබඳ කිසිදු සැලකිල්ලක් දක්වා නැත.
මෙම අවස්ථා දෙකේ දීම සිවිල් ආරක්‍ෂක කමිටු පිරිස් මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ කටයුතු වලට බාධා කරනු ලැබ තිබේ.  මාධ්‍යවේදීන් තම කටයුතු ඉටුකරන්නේ මෙරට ජනතාවගේ තොරතුරු දැනගැනීමේ අයිතිය ක්‍රියාවට නඟනු සඳහාය. ඒ සඳහා ක්‍රියා කිරීමේ දී මාධ්‍යවේදීන් වෙත ලැබෙන අයිතිවාසිකම් රාශියක් ද තිබේ. එම අයිතිවාසිකම් ආරක්‍ෂා කර දීම පොලිස් දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවෙන් අපේක්‍ෂිත මූලික කාර්යයකි. එහෙත්, පොලිස් දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ නිලධාරීන් සහ එයට අනුයුක්තව කටයුතු කරන සිවිල් ආරක්‍ෂක සේවයෙහි නියුක්ත වූ පුද්ගලයන් හට මෙම අයිතිවාසිකම් පිළිබඳව හෝ තම රාජකාරි පිළිබඳව හෝ මාධ්‍යවේදීන් සම්බන්ධයෙන් අනුගමනය කළ යුතු පිළිවෙත් පිළිබඳව හෝ ප්‍රමාණවත් අවබෝධයක් තවමත් ලබා දී නැති බව ඉහත සිද්ධි දෙකෙන් මනාව පැහැදිලි වේ. එහෙයින් අප ඔබගෙන් ඉතා ඕනෑ කමින් ඉල්ලා සිටින්නේ එම පිරිස් වෙත එම අවබෝධය ලබා දීමට ඉක්මන් පියවර ගන්නා ලෙසයි.
පසුගිය මස එනම්, ජනවාරි 9 වනදා මන්නාරමේ දී මාධ්‍යවේදී ජෝෂප් විලියම් එස් ප්‍රනාන්දු මහතා මෙවැනිම වාර්තාකරණයක යෙදී සිටියදී පොලිසියේ සහ නාවික හමුදාවේ නිලධාරීන් විසින් බැන වැදී එළවා දැමීම ගැන මන්නාරම මහේස්ත්‍රාත් අධිකරණය වෙත යොමු කර තිබූ පැමිණිල්ලක් සම්බන්ධයෙන් තීන්දුවක් දෙමින් මහේස්ත්‍රාත් වරයා ප්‍රකාශ කර තිබුණේ මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හට නිදහසේ තම කටයුතු කරගෙන යාමට අයිතියක් ඇති බවත්, ඔවුනගේ කටයුතු වලට බාධා කිරීම අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ නිදහස උල්ලංඝනය කරන්නක් බවත්ය. මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ කටයුතු අත්හිටුවීම හෝ සීමා කිරීම සඳහා ක්‍රියා කළ හැක්කේ අධිකරණයට පමණක් බව මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයා එහි දී වැඩිදුරටත් ප්‍රකාශ කර තිබේ.
එහෙයින් මේ කරුණු ඔබේ අවධානයට යොමු කරමින් මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හට නිදහසේ තම කටයුතු කරගෙන යාමට අවශ්‍ය වාතාවරණය සැලසෙන පරිදි ඔබ යටතේ සේවය කරන නිලධාරීන්හට සෘජු සහ පැහැදිලි උපදෙස් ලබා දෙන ලෙස නැවත වරක් ඉල්ලා සිටිමු.
සනත් බාලසූරිය, – 0773112505
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සනත් බාලසූරිය – සුනන්ද දේශප්‍රිය – ධර්මසිරි ලංකාපේලි – එන්.එම් අමින්  ආර්. භාරතී