Journalists under fire

By Jayantha Sri Nissanka (Lakbima English/16th March)

Has the Government decided to silence the voice of Sri Lanka’s minority community journalists? Many Tamil journalists are today at risk of being called “LTTE informants” and being framed on false charges. They are plagued with difficulty when attempting to carry out their duties as journalists.
Of course, the real informants whether Tamil or Sinhala, should be arrested and charged for aiding and abetting with terrorists. Unfortunately, many Tamil journalists fear that the government is using Emergency Regulations to frame charges against reporters who are not in the state’s good books.
Last week, Sunday Times columnist J.S. Tissainayagam was arrested. Also taken in by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) was S Sivakumar, Free Media Movement Tamil spokesman and editor of the bi-monthly Tamil language “Sarinihar” magazine. Journalist N. Jasiharan, K. Wijesingha and cameraman Ranga of the “outreachsl.com” website, too, were detained.
Some of them were released but Tissanayagam is serving a 30 days detention order. Although Selvakumar is the Tamil spokesman of the FMM, he declined to comment on his arrest when contacted.
The outreachsl.com has information mostly on current issues that are also used on other news websites. But Tissanayagam’s weekly column hits the government hard on various issues. The question is being asked whether he was arrested for that reason.
The government has shown a habit of arresting Tamil journalists claiming they are LTTE informants. A classic example is the detention of Maubima journalist M Parameshwari.

Detention

Parameshwari was arrested by the TID and kept in detention for four months on a claim that she was aiding and abetting with a LTTE female suicide cadre, Thambirasa Susanthi, and providing her accommodation in Colombo.
But she was released after the police failed to establish that she had links with the LTTE. Recently, the alleged suicide bomber Thambirasa Susanthi was also acquitted by courts for lack of evidence.
Parameshwari’s newspaper Maubima was closed by the government which claimed the organisation had links with LTTE. The owner of the company is Tiran Alles, a close friend of SLFP renegade MP Mangala Samaraweera. There were no allegations of terrorist links until he stayed on the good side with the government. But he got into trouble after Samaraweera formed the SLFP- Mahajana Wing and Alles lent one of his houses in Castle Street, Borella, to the SLFP-M to run its office.
It is becoming the trend for the govern
ment to label “aggressive” journalists – or those that criticise the regime – as LTTE informants. If a journalist is Tamil, he is exceedingly more vulnerable to arrest on false charges.
Parameshwari continues to be harassed after her release. Her passport was forcibly taken away in Borella. Though she had lodged complain at the Borella police station, the suspect is still at large. It is uncertain whether the Borella police will ever trace this suspect.

Attacked

Parameswari’s family was attacked on Friday by a mob that claimed they were LTTE supporters. Her father and a sister were seriously injured. The gang, armed with clubs, had stormed her house in Gampola. They surrounded her house and prevented injured persons from being taken to hospital. The Gampola police had eventually rescued them. The mob threatened to burn Parameshwari alive if she returned to Gampola.
This is the abysmal state of Sri Lanka’s media freedom. Even when the courts acquit Tamil and Sinhala suspects due to their innocence, Sinhala extremists harass them.
The Rajapaksa government is talking about untrammeled media freedom in the country. President Mahinda Rajapaksa, speaking at the Ruhuna Artists Forum, said there is absolute media freedom in the country but that the government is not answerable for isolated incidents as and when they occur. Who will guarantee the lives of Sri Lankan journalists if the head of state treats the Fourth Estate in such a manner?

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