FMM E – bulletin Feb. 2008



4th Feb.:  Sri Lanka blocks SMS on Independence day
4th Feb.: IFJ Asia Regional Leaders write to President and Government of Sri Lanka 

4th Feb. Some media discrediting soldiers’ sacrifices – President

12th Feb. Journalist arrested for taking photographs
12th Feb. : Police called in to evict journalists
12th Feb : Police harass journalists in Batticaloa
14th Feb:  Thousand strong march in defense of media freedom
14th Feb: TV news director followed by hostile group
15th Feb.: Journalist Parameshwari threatened

15th Feb:  Four human rights defenders right to association taken away
18th Feb: Public Performance Board chair removed
19th Feb.: Police withdraw its comments on killed journalists

20th Feb: Police confiscate  a PC belonging to NGO head
20th Feb.  Hate attack on pro peace writer
21st Feb.: NPC official hinders media personnel who went to lodge complaint
23th Feb: police assault TV journalist covering bomb blast in Colombo
23rd Feb. : Journalists residence visited by suspicious gang
27th Feb: SLBC head removed by president
28th Feb: journalists targeted over coverage
28th Feb: Journalist assaulted by a monk
29th SLRC head ordered to resign
28th January:    

FMM E – bulletin
January 2008

2nd February: photographer assaulted

The OIC of Rambukkana Police, M.P. Dias allegedly assaulted a photographer attached to the Ceylon Tourist Board on 2nd  for not getting up from the seat when the OIC arrived at the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. SSP Wilfred Mahanayake who is in charge of the area said that this is an ‘insult’ to the police service, and stern action would be taken against the OIC if he is proven guilty.

4th February: Sri Lanka blocks SMS on Independence day

Sri Lanka’s telecom networks blocked text messaging on mobile phones as part of security measures for the national celebrations marking 60 years of independence from Britain.  Phone service providers may bar SMSs (Short Message Services) for a certain period if unnecessary public fear is created through text messages prior to national events or emergency situations, the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) said.

4th February: IFJ Asia Regional Leaders write to President and Government of Sri Lanka  

In a joint letter the representatives of journalists’ unions and associations across the Asia-Pacific region, meeting in Kuala Lumpur, appealed to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Government of Sri Lanka to protect the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka and uphold the rights of the media to report freely. The statement said “We condemn in the strongest terms the disrespect and outright physical aggression shown by members of the Government and senior public officials toward journalists, media institutions and the right to freedom of speech.”

4th February: Some media discrediting soldiers’ sacrifices – President

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has said some media are engaged in a campaign to discredit sacrifices by the security forces while Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickramanayake notes that there are media institutions which support terrorism. They were speaking at the launching of a new satellite TV channel under the Ministry of Defence on Independence Day. According to a statement posted on the Defence Ministry website the President said that he was delighted as the Commander in Chief, that the Defence Ministry could set up a TV channel dedicated to the war heroes at a time that certain media are engaged in a campaign to discredit soldiers’ sacrifices.

12th February: Journalist arrested for taking photographs

On 12 February 2008, Gemunu Amarasinghe, a photojournalist working for Associated Press (AP), was arrested by Civil Defense Committee members while he was covering students entering Isipathana College, Colombo. He was doing a photo story on the reopening of schools after their being closed for a week. He was handed over to the police by members of the Civil Defense Committee and taken to the Narahenpita police station. He was released nearly two hours later after intervention by media institutions and organizations. His arrest and detention meant that he could not carry out his duty as a journalist.

12th February : Police called in to evict journalists

Deputy Chairman of the Southern Provincial Council asked the police to come into the council meeting on 12th February  complaining that journalists were photographing a incident of the council.  Police prevented journalists from leaving the venue of the meeting,  for nearly one hours. Journalists Ajith Niroshan and a number of other journalists were covering the council meeting videoed a member carrying the mace out of the meeting when the Deputy Chairman summoned the Police.

12th February: Police harass journalists in Batticaloa

Policemen posted at the entrance of Batticaloa Secretariat stopped two Muslim journalists from entering the Secretariat premise Tuesday around 10:30 a.m, according to a complaint made by the journalists to Batticaloa Senior Police Commissioner, H. M. P. Hearath.
Policemen verbally abused the journalists M. S. M. Noordeen and S. M. M. Musthafa, and prevented them from taking the motorcycles up to the Secretariat building though it was customary for journalists attending conferences to ride into the Secretariat premises, the complaint further said.

14th February :  Thousand strong march in defense of media freedom

Organised by the Movement Against Media Suppression, hundreds of journalists were joined on the thousand-strong protest march for press freedom in Colombo on February 14,  by a broad cross section of Sri Lankan society, including many from the trade union movement, human rights activists, civil society and the women’s movement. In the strongest show of solidarity for media freedom in recent times, media groups and civil society pledged to work together to defend and promote freedom of expression.

14th February:TV news director followed by hostile group

News director of the popular Sinhala TV channel Sirasa, was followed by a hostile group that forced open the door of his car in an apparent attempt to harm him. A group of unknown persons had forced open the door of his car while he was jogging on that morning. Then, between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (local time), he was followed by a pick-up truck that tried to overtake his car. There are also reports of suspicious persons keeping surveillance of his movements on 17 February. A complaint was lodged at police on 15 February 2008. The incident occurred on the night of 14 February.

15th February: Journalist Parameshwari threatened

Journalists Parameshwari Munusami, who was kept in police custody for more than 3 months without any charges, continues to be followed by unknown persons. Unknown persons has visited the neighbourhood of her relatives and shown her photographs to taxi drives saying that she is a wanted woman. Newspaper she worked had to close done because of government pressure and harassment.

15th February:  Four human rights defenders right to association taken away

Four human rights defenders associated with a human rights organisation, Right to Life, have been deprived of their right to engage in peaceful activities by a permanent injunction issued by the District Court of Negombo which has held that there is no legal right to engage in such peaceful activities. They are: (M.K. Rodrigo (former president of the worker’s council) Ms. A.N. Mapalagamo, (coordinator of TRY, a worker’s welfare association) Brito Fernando, and Philip Dissanayake). This permanent injunction was issued on February 15, 2008 in case No. 2835/5. This court order is unprecedented in Sri Lanka as the constitution guarantees the freedom of association, freedom of expression and the freedom to form trade unions. ( AHRC)

19th February: Police withdraw its comments on killed journalists

the head of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Sri Lankan Police claimed that journalist Sampath Lakmal, who was murdered in 2006, was a paid military informant. DIG H. W. Prathapasinghe made this statement to an English newspaper on 17 February 2008. He denied making such a statement after FMM questioned the validity of his statement.Journalist Sampath Lakmal was lured out from his house where he lived with his mother on 2 July 2006 and shot dead in the early morning hours. Mrs. Rupa de Silva, his mother provided the Police with the name of the military officer who asked Sampath Lakmal to join him that fatal night. Although the court has taken up the case eight times so far, the Police have failed to produce any suspects or even to record a statement from the military officer.

18th February: Public Performance Board chair removed

Renowned author, critic and novelist Prof. Somaratne Balasuriya was removed as Chairman of the Public Performance Board. A decision taken by Balasuriya regarding ‘Aksharaya’, a film by Asoka Handagama, prompted the move, Secretary to the Ministry of Cultural Affairs G.L.W. Amarasinghe said.  Mr. Balasuria ididnot support the moves to ban the film Aksharaya. Responding to a question as to whether he expected independence at the PPB when accepting the position, Balasuriya said that he had been promised a free hand. He said that in the beginning, he was allowed to function independently, but things changed later on. Recently, veteran film director Dharmasena Pathiraja was removed from the chair of the National Art Council, after his attempt to make the institution independent met with stiff opposition from the Cultural Ministry Secretary, reported

20th February: Police confiscates a PC belonging to NGO head

The Criminal Investigation Division (CID) took into custody a computer used by Dr. Rama Mani, the former Executive Director of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), to check for “controversial” correspondence, as reported by “The Sunday Times” on 24 February.In a statement FMM said that “Our interest is to strengthen the open exchange of competing ideas that we strongly believe and affirm are a cornerstone of a vibrant democracy. Dr. Mani had an inalienable right to hold her own opinions and ideas, to articulate them, to promote them and discuss them with friends, colleagues and associates in Sri Lanka and internationally.”

20th February:  Hate attack on pro peace writer

Peace advocate and writer Jehan Perera were verbally abused  by some unknown group while he was jogging near his house.  He recounted the incident in one of his articles:  “On the weekend as I enjoyed the early morning hours in the park near where I live, I heard a raucous noise.  Not thinking it was for me, I continued with my jog.  But on the next round it was unmistakable. The sound coming from across the distance was “traitor, traitor.”  I could not see who it was because the sound came from between parked cars.  But whoever it was wanted to make it known that I was the target.  “Jehan Perera, traitor, traitor”, he shouted. ”

21st February: NPC official hinders media personnel who went to lodge complaint

Five media organizations lodged a complaint with the National Police Commission on Feb. 26th  regarding the alleged assault on Sugath Dharmapriya, a journalist of Derana TV, by Mount Lavinia OIC Mahesh Perera. K.E. Vamadevan, a Deputy Secretary of the National Police Commission had interrupted and verbally abused the camera crews of two TV stations who went to cover the event.

23th February: police assault TV journalist covering bomb blast in Colombo

On 23 February, Sugath Dharmapriya, a news producer of the Derana TV channel covering the bomb blast on a bus in Mount Lavinia, a suburb of Colombo, was abused and assaulted by a Senior Inspector of the Mount Lavinia Police, Mahesh Perera. Inspector Mahesh Perera had first abused Sugath Dharmapriya by throwing him out on to the street, loudly proclaiming that the journalist had to be summarily chased out from the scene. Inspector Mahesh Perera’s contemptible action forced the journalist to leave the scene for his safety. The Mount Lavinia Police refused to file a complaint on the incident. The journalist was forced to lodge his complaint at the Special Crimes section of the Mirihana Police Station.

23rd February: Journalists residence visited by suspicious gang

The residence of a journalist who has published critical stories on minister Mervyn Silva’s intrusion into SLRC on 27th December was visited by a suspicious group on motorcycles on 27 February. The group inquired about his whereabouts and left as he was not at home. He received suspicious phone calls on 13 and 17 February. FMM is concerned that he also may also be a target of unruly elements related to SLRC incident.

27th February: SLBC head removed by president

Sunil Sarath Perera has been removed as chairman and member of the director board of the state-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). And, his replacement in the acting capacity is the Director of Government Information, Anusha Pelpita. ‘Lanka ’ reported that  that the president has made the change.

28th February: journalists targeted over coverage

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 27 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 27 February while he was in his residence in Pitakotte.

28th February: Journalist assaulted by  a monk

Journalist Pankaja Sankalapa of Independent Television Network (ITN) was scolded using filthy language and assaulted by a chief monk Ven. Getamane Siridhammakitti Thera of a Buddhist religious school in Mathara.  The incident happened in front of 1500 people who had gathered for a dancing ceremony. The monk was arrested on sexual abuse charges four years ago and was in remand prison before he was released on bail. The monk has assaulted journalist Pankaja for his coverage of the sexual abuse story on ITN.  He logged complaint to Mathra police on the same day.

29th Feb: SLRC head ordered to resign

Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa ordered Director-General of the public service broadcaster, (but government controlled) Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation Sisira Kotelawala to immediately tender his resignation. The move said to be part of efforts by the President to restructure the state media according to his liking. Public service media in Sri Lanka are politically controlled by governing political parties to their advantage.

29th February:  still bolcked ,  one of the main news source of ongoing war in Sri Lanka continue to be blocked by all local providers for months now.  Tamil net provides news from the battle zone on Tamil civilians and some times from rebel LTTE. Government has its own website for military information as well as disinformation and provides its own version to media reports on war.