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.