28th February 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: In yet another serious blow to media freedom, the Free Media Movement (FMM) is appalled to learn that a four-member gang allegedly attempted to harm a journalist attached to the State owned TV broadcaster Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC).
The journalist, Assistant Director News Camera Priyal Ranjith Perera, was involved in videotaping the infamous incident on 27th December 2007 when Government MP and Minister of Labour Mervyn Silva wreaked havoc inside SLRC along with a gang of thugs, some of whom were drug dealers, murderers and underworld criminals.
The unidentified gang threatened journalist Perera on the evening of 27th February while he was in his residence in Pitakotte.
According to the journalist four persons clad in black arrived at his home and asked for a deal to film a wedding ceremony. “They came and rang the bell of my home. While I was opening the door I got suspicious by the look of them. I am used to taking precautions after the December 27 incident. So, I told them that those doing such video work are not here right now.” At that point, he said, one of the gang had pulled out something that looked like a knife from his trouser pocket and tried to harm him. “I shut the door with a bang and shouted saying thieves had broken into my home. My neighbours having heard me screaming and rushed to see what was wrong.” According to eye witnesses the attackers fled in a three-wheeler. Journalist Perera went on to say that “I suspect a link between the December 27 melee and this incident. My staff filmed the mayhem that day. Since then I have been under threat”.
Meanwhile, residence of another journalist who has published critical stories on minister Silva’s intrusion into SLRC has been visited by suspicious group in motor cycles on 27th February. The group has inquired about his whereabouts and left as he was not at home. He has received suspicious phone calls on 13th and 17 Februray. FMM is concerned that he also may also be a target of unruly elements related to SLRC incident.
The FMM notes with dismay that this is the third and forth confirmed cases of a journalist who has been threatened or attacked after standing up to the thuggery of MP Mervyn Silva. Many more have been threatened and are fearful of coming out in the open. Twenty-one journalists of SLRC have been questioned to date on the incident.
Not a single thug who accompanied MP Mervyn Silva has been brought to book. Not a single investigation or disciplinary hearing on MP Mervyn Silva has been conducted. Promises made by the SLFP Central Committee to hold the deranged MP accountable for his actions have not borne any fruit. The Police have yet to even question the Minister. Enjoying the spoils of the proximity to absolute power, the MP is free to do as he sees fit while journalists today are under threat and in fear of their lives from criminal and underworld gangs in the service of the Minister.
The President of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association Sanath Balasuriya told FMM that “the authorities concerned can dispel our deep concern about the safety and security of our colleagues in SLRC only through an urgent, open and meaningful investigation to identify the perpetrators who threatened journalist Priyal Ranjith Perera. At this point those who witnessed the December 27th incident should be united to overcome the present challenges”.
It is a stance that the FMM stands by and fully endorses.