Continuing attacks against journalists in Sri Lanka require Presidential intervention

14th March 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged at yet another murderous attack on a journalist at the State owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) today. Journalist Arunasiri Hettige, Assistant Director (Supplies) of SLRC, was attacked early this morning on his way to work at a bus stop near Kottikawatta, a Colombo suburb.  A club affixed to a sharp object on his neck was used to attack him. He was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital for emergency medical treatment.

Journalist Hettige was a represented the SLRC Workers Union at a meeting held on 13th March with the Defence Secretary, Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapakse, the Police Spokesperson N. K. Illangakoon, the Chairman of SLRC Ariyarathna Athugala and other Union Leaders regarding the infamous Mervyn Silva incident in December 2007.

The continuing attacks against journalists who were part of a spontaneous resistance against the unprecedented and brutish intrusion by Government MP Mervyn Silva and his posse of thugs on 27th December 2007 at SLRC beggars belief.

It is quite clear that law enforcement agencies are unable and unwilling to stop these series of attacks or arrest the culprits. While the journalists who stood up against the outrageous actions of the Government MP have been attacked, questioned and detained by the Police – the chief culprit enjoys complete immunity from the rule of law.

This is an untenable situation. The FMM holds the President directly accountable for the actions of those in his Government and the safety and security of all media personnel, particularly those who took part in the agitations against MP Mervyn Silva at SLRC. Further, we hold the President directly responsible for the safety and security of these journalists given the inability and the unwillingness of the Police to bring the underworld gangs responsible for these attacks to book.

At a time when the such attacks are taking place with complete impunity and in broad daylight, it is laughably tragic and grossly inappropriate that the Government even contemplates a national media policy without first ensuring the security of journalists and through it, the freedom of expression and media freedom.

This is an open and urgent appeal for Presidential intervention in a situation already out of control. It is only a matter of time before another journalist is attacked and pays for standing up for democratic values and media freedom with his or her life.

We also call upon all journalists, especially those at SLRC, to unite and stand together in solidarity against those who seek to silence them through fear and intimidation. We note that it is only through the transformation of SLRC to an institution able to provide accurate, impartial and fair news and information without State control that incidents of this nature can be prevented in the future.

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IFJ urges Sri Lankan Government to act on SLRC Attacks

IFJ

Media Release: Sri Lanka
March 14, 2008

Sri Lankan Government Urged to Act on SLRC Attacks

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) demands that the Government of Sri Lanka order the police to take immediate action against perpetrators of a series of attacks against staff of the state-owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), as the Free Media Movement (FMM) reported yet another violent attack on an SLRC journalist.

The FMM, an IFJ affiliate, said Anurasiri Hettige was beaten with an iron rod by an unidentified gang on March 14.

It was the fifth physical assault or attempted attack on an SLRC employee since Labour Minister Mervyn Silva assaulted SLRC news director TMG Chandrasekara in a melee at the broadcaster’s office on December 27.

“The attack on Anurasiri Hettige is a clear indication that all SLRC journalists and staff who protested against the intrusion into the station by Minister Silva on December 27 are facing a real threat,” the FMM said in a statement.

“The Government’s silence on this series of attacks and its failure to act to end the violence and threats allegedly linked to a member of the government must end now,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

Journalists and staff of SLRC have been targeted with threats and intimidation in an apparent link with media coverage of the Minister’s actions at the SLRC office on December 27.

January 25: Lal Hemantha Mawalage attacked by two armed men, suffered severe cuts to his arm; also received death threats on his phone on March 4.

January 29: Attempted attack on Duleep Dushantha by two armed men at his home; Dushantha’s mother threatened with death for informing of the incident.

February 27: Priyal Ranjith Perera, Assistant Director of News Camera, attacked by unidentified armed gang at his home.

March 5: Ranjani Aluthge, SLRC librarian, stabbed with razor knife on public bus.

As many as 10 journalists, media workers and journalists’ leaders from other television stations and media also have been reportedly targeted for their involvement in covering the December 27 incident and the subsequent media staff protests against Minister Silva.

Poddala Jayantha, a senior journalist with Silumina and the secretary of the Sri Lankan Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), an IFJ affiliate, endured an attempted abduction by armed assailants at his home on January 7.

Death threats were made to leading personnel at the MBC TV and Radio network: MTV head Chevaan Daniel, Sirasa director Kingsley Ratnayaka and Sirasa news director Susil Kedelpitya. Kedelpitya reports that his house and whereabouts are being watched by suspicious people.

Threats also have been delivered to media activists including SLWJA president Sanath Balasooriya and Dharmasiri Lankapeli, the general secretary of the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, also an IFJ affiliate.

The IFJ joined the FMM in calling for journalists and democratic forces to make a united stand against orchestrated violence and intimidation intended to prevent journalists and media institutions reporting in the public interest.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries

Breaking news: Another Rupavahini employee assaulted! (Updated with initial FMM response)

As reported today by the Daily Mirror, the FMM is appalled to learn of another attack against a journalist at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.

Another Rupavahini employee was assaulted today. Police say the employee, Anurasiri Hettige, was beaten by an unidentified gang using an iron rod. The victim was admitted to the Colombo National hospital a short while ago.

UPDATED WITH FMM RESPONSE

The FMM is appalled to learn of another attack against a journalist at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC). This is a clear indication that all SLRC journalists and staff who protested against the brutish intrusion by Government MP Mervyn Silva and his posse of thugs on 27th Dec 2007 are facing real threat.

This is the third journalist attacked, and at least 10 journalists who either covered or took part in the protest on 27th have received threats recently.

It is  quite clear that law enforcement agencies are unable and unwilling  to stop  these series of attacks or arrest the culprits.  Only united action by all journalists and democratic forces can stop these mercenaries and thugs in the government from undermining our security, safety and professional integrity.

Further, we like to note with dismay that SLRC didn’t give any converge on media protests against attacks on its own journalists held yesterday by all major journalists trade unions and media freedom organisations because of its partisan bias and political pressure.

This is the hour for SLRC journalists to not only stand together against these forces of revenge but also strengthen a campaign to make SLRC coverage accurate, impartial and fair so that all democratic forces can  stand behind the larger institution and its staff.