By Dilrukshi Handunnetti ( Sunday Leader 16th March)
THE old belief is that lightning would strike not once but twice. But lightning strikes many times in certain instances, and ever since Non Cabinet Labour Minister, Mervyn Silva was given a dose of his own medicine within the SLRC premises along with his ‘security’ goon, with lightning speed, SLRC employees have come under attack, five times so far.
Since that fateful day, December 27 last year when Silva was at the receiving end there has been systematic victimisation of SLRC employees, one by one. Last Friday, with the latest attack on an assistant director of SLRC and a trade union leader, Anurasiri Hettige, the scorecard currently reads five. Did anyone ever say, ‘Hell hath no fury like a politician scorn’d’?
With Assistant Director, SLRC and President, Sri Lanka Sevaka Sangamaya, Anurasiri Hettige attacked with an iron rod causing serious head injuries, there is public outrage once more against the ruffian politician who appears to be unleashing his notorious Mafia upon the unsuspecting SLRC workers. There is a history to this.
When Mervyn Silva and his gun toting personal security guard, known as ‘Kudu Nuwan’ for good reason forcibly entered SLRC premises and assaulted News Director, T. M. G. Chandrasekara on December 27 for the alleged offence of not airing his defamatory speech attacking Parliamentarian Mangala Samaraweera, the outraged SLRC staff shed all their differences to give the politician of ill-repute a sort of ‘baptism of fire.’
United in their anger and contempt for the law enforcement authorities for not meting out justice, the SLRC workers first ran the ‘Mervyn Show’ live on national television. Then they took the politician to task. It was payback time for a man who has been a black mark to this nation and to representative politics. Silva did not bargain for the violent treatment as he was assaulted, bruised and had colourful paint poured over his pate.
That should have been the end of the story. But no. ‘Disciplinary action’ was promised against Silva by his party for his misconduct, but no action has been taken against him. Silva is so confident that nobody would touch him or dare to reprimand him that very recently, he was heard promoting himself as presidential nominee to the Constitutional Council, no less.
Since Silva came under attack, a tragedy had been unfolding involving the SLRC workers. T. M. G. Chandrasekara, very much the victim in this instance was transferred to the Research Unit almost immediately. The SLRC staff was blamed by none other than President Mahinda Rajapakse for disrupting regular programmes and airing the Mervyn Silva Show live on December 27 – a day most Sri Lankans rejoiced, and justified the physical attack on the attackers.
In this backdrop, informed sources told The Sunday Leader that Mervyn Silva was scheduled to go overseas on February 26, and warned of attacks on SLRC workers soon afterwards.
It is also reliably learnt that Silva has referred to two media activists as “revula” (bearded man) and “kondaya” (long haired man) and pledged not to allow their campaign against him.
Just after Silva’s departure on February 26, so far three attacks have taken place. It is as if a video copy of the SLRC’s ambush of Silva is being used to identify the employees and to attack them one by one, in a way that they would be not just be physically scarred but mentally scarred, forever.
Series of attacks
The very next day, Assistant Director, News Camera, Priyal Ranjith Perera was attacked by an unidentified armed gang at his home. On March 5, SLRC Librarian, Ranjani Aluthge was stabbed with a razor knife while travelling in a public bus.
The series of attacks commenced a month after Silva came under attack within the SLRC premises.
On January 25, a senior producer/presenter, Lal Hemantha Mawalage was attacked by two armed men. He suffered severe cuts to his arm. He also received death threats on his phone on March 4.
Four days later on January 29, an attempted attack on Duleep Dushantha by two armed men at his home was averted. Dushantha’s mother was threatened with death for informing authorities of the incident.
Then came the cutting of the SLRC librarian’s back with a razor knife and an armed group’s attack on an assistant director.
The fifth attack was on March 14, when an unidentified gang beat Anurasiri Hettige while he was travelling from his Kotikawatta residence to SLRC around 7.45 a.m. He was hit with an iron rod causing head injuries and is currency at the Intensive Care Unit of the Colombo National Hospital receiving emergency treatment.
“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 over 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,” demanded IFJ Asia-Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park, urging urgent action against the perpetrators.
The IFJ has with concern noted that as many as 10 journalists and media workers 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 MBC TV and Radio Networks: MTV Head Chevaan Daniel, Sirasa Director Kingsley Ratnayaka and Sirasa News Director Susil Kindelpitiya. Kindelpitiya reports that suspicious people are watching his house and whereabouts.
Threats also have been delivered to media activists including Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) President, Sanath Balasooriya and the General Secretary, Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, Dharmasiri Lankapeli.
“We have been demanding action against Mervyn Silva and his goon squad since they forcibly entered the SLRC premises and assaulted its news director. There was deafening silence. Is it that Silva is above the law or is our political leadership indebted to Silva in some mysterious way that no action is possible against the worst possible politician this country has ever produced?” demands media activist and General Secretary, SLWJA, Poddala Jayantha.
But Police Spokesman, DIG M. K. Illangakoon pledged an impartial inquiry into the recent most attack on a SLRC employee and said a ‘special team’ has already been deployed to investigate.
While the government remains tight lipped about the continued attacks on SLRC personnel, it has called for public responses for a new media regulatory policy that has come under serious attack by media groups.
“Sri Lanka’s government must take concrete steps to ensure the safety and protection of journalists in the conduct of their work, starting with public reprimands for government members who verbally and physically attack the media, and give directives to local authorities to investigate and act on attacks against journalists across the island, including the attacks on SLRC staff,” said IFJ Asia Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park in a statement.
Currently, it seems that the strategy is to attack and curb the media in as many ways as possible. While media practitioners come under continued attack including death, intimidation, harassment and threats, the administration has elected to turn a blind eye. There is a growing culture of impunity with law enforcement authorities having so far failed to bring a single miscreant in the recent attacks against the media to book.
At the policy level, there are new moves to introduce a ‘national media policy’ that is opposed by a large majority of the community for its overt desire to regulate the media.
With the media under siege in every possible way, there is little wonder as to why Sri Lanka’s flagging human rights record including that of freedom of expression has become a worldwide concern, and more so, as to why the country is classified among the 10 worst places for journalists