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Fire Mervyn, SLRC unions ask President

State television trade unions last night demanded that President Mahinda Rajapaksa sack Minister Mervyn Silva and vowed to go ahead with a planned strike from tomorrow, if they do not get an assurance from the president. The sacking of Minister Silva was one of the five demands the unions put forward to President Rajapaksa last night.

The notice of trade union action came in the aftermath of attacks on five employees of the Rupavahini Corporation. The attacks follow a December 27 incident in which Minister Mervyn Silva was attacked by a mob after he stormed the TV station and threatened the news director.
SLRC Assistant Director Arunasiri Hettige lying on his hospital bed with a deepneck wound that required 10 sutures. Pix by Bertie Mendis
The letter to President Rajapaks was signed by Programme Producers Union, Production Artists Association, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Employees Union, the Technical Officers Union and the Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya.

The other demands are: a security guarantee from the President and the government, taking action against the thugs who accompanied Mr Silva to the corporation and those responsible for the subsequent attacks, paying compensation to the employees who came under attack and an assurance that no action will be taken against the union members involved in the agitation campaigns.

SLRC joint trade unions spokesperson Kanchana Marasinghe told The Sunday Times that in the backdrop of increasing attacks the matter was regularly discussed with the SLRC Management, the Media Minister and the Police but no proper action had been taken up to now.

The assault on the Assistant Director of Supplies Arunasiri Hettige was the latest in a series of attacks on SLRC employees within a short span of one and a half months. Those attacked so far, had been present when non-cabinet Labour Minister Mervyn Silva stormed the SLRC premises on December 27 and allegedly attacked news director T.M.G. Chandrasekara.

Mr. Hettige the SLRC Sevaka Sangamaya President was attacked by two unidentified men at Kotikawatte on Friday at about 7:45 am while waiting to take a bus to office. Mr. Hettige who had missed the earlier bus was standing at an almost deserted bus halt, when the men riding a motorcycle had got off at the spot, dragged Mr. Hettige by his legs and slashed his neck with a sharp instrument. Mr. Hettige’s name appears in the list of 21 SLRC employees wanted for questioning by the CID with regard to the spontaneous protest staged after the Mervyn Silva drama at the Rupavahini premises and coincidently four of the five people attacked had their names on that list.

By way of protest, live telecasts, production and recording of programmes were temporarily stopped on Friday morning, with normal services resuming only after 4:00 p.m. The guests invited for various programmes were asked to leave and the Trade Unions claimed the SLRC incurred a revenue loss of some one million rupees with the stoppage of regular programmes.

Following the attack on Mr. Hettige, the Trade Unions also met Police Chief Victor Perera who assured them he would take steps to ensure the maximum safety and security of the employees. The trade unions strongly condemned the assault on Mr. Hettige and claimed it was a well executed operation.

The attack came a day after the trade unions met Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Police Chief and urged them to provide swift and relevant action to curb such incidents. The Defence Secretary directed the Police Chief to work out a suitable security plan that would ensure safety of the employees.

“This is a political problem which needs to be resolved immediately. Mr. Hettige was also present at this discussion and asked various questions on the matter. Although the Defence Secretary assured us he will act to ensure our safety, less than 18 hours later another SLRC employee comes under attack. What does this mean? Does it not show that even his directives are being disregarded”, Mr. Marasinghe asked. The Trade Unions claimed the Media Minister was not available for comment.

Ceylon Trade Union Federation Secretary Piyasiri Wijenayake blamed the Government for the attack and called on the workforce and civil society to join hands to put an end to the string of attacks. Last week Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa promised to work closely with SLRC employees and the management in safeguarding their security.

SLRC Director General Sisira Kotelawela told The Sunday Times that new security measures to protect SLRC staff was now in place.“A civil defence team has been set up to patrol the vicinity of the SLRC. We have also set up a pool of officials whom the staff members could contact if they receive threatening calls,” he said and added that if requested for, security would be provided for employees on their way home.

“These measures were discussed at the meeting between the SLRC unions and the Defence Secretary on Thursday and have now implemented them”, he said. The Free Media Movement (FMM) appealed to the President to intervene in a situation which appears to have gone too far and out of control.

“This is an untenable situation. We hold 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 agitating against the chaotic actions of Minister Silva at the SLRC. At a time when such attacks are taking place with impunity and in broad daylight, it is laughably tragic and grossly inappropriate that the Government is even contemplating a national media policy without first ensuring the security of journalists and the freedom of expression and media freedom”, the FMM said.

Police Spokesman Deputy Inspector General N.K. Illangakoon said a new security plan has been prepared but declined to disclose its details.“Police are conducting investigations on all five cases,” he added.

JVP blames Rajapaksa

The JVP yesterday accused President Mahinda Rajapaksa of not taking steps to halt a string of attacks on Rupavahini employees and vowed to carry out a public agitation campaign demanding justice for Rupavahini employees who are facing threats.

JVP frontliner Anura Kumara Dissanayaka said neither the government nor the police were taking any serious action to arrest the suspects and the party believed that the President was protecting Minister Mervyn Silva.The JVP MP’s comments came in response to an attack on Rupavahini’s Assistant Director Arunasiri Hettige on Friday. He was the fifth Rupavahini employee to be attacked since the Mervyn Silva incident on December 27.

Mr. Hettige, JVP trade union leader, was visited by the JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe and Mr Dissanayaka on Friday.

List of those attacked or threatened.

On January 25 at 11:00 pm journalist Lal Hemantha Mawalage was slashed with a knife on his right arm by two men in Athurugiriya while he was returning home from work.

On January 29, two men armed with a pistol entered the house of Duleep Dushantha at the Kollupitiya government flats and threatened his mother with death if she informed police of the incident.

On February 27, Assistant Camera News Director Priyal Ranjith Perera was threatened by an unidentified gang while he was at his residence.

On March 5, SLRC library Assistant Director Ranjini Althuge Herath’s shoulder was slashed with a razor blade while in a bus travelling home after work.

On March 14 Assistant Director and unionist Arunasiri Hettige was hit on the neck with an iron rod at 7:45 am while at a bus halt in Kotikawatte on his way to work.

(Sunday Times 16th March)

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