Reporters Without Borders noted on 20 March the withdrawal of security forces from the premises of state-run Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), allowing journalists to resume work.
The police and army seized control of the corporation on 17 March and locked out staff that had been planning strike action in protest against a series of politically-motivated assaults against the corporation’s employees.
The worldwide press freedom organisation however deplored the appointment of retired general, Sunil Silva, a close associate of the presidential family, as deputy general director of the SLRC, a post especially created for him.
“This appointment of a military figure as a media head, unprecedented for decades, will obstruct presidential plans for the state-run press” it added.
Despite President Mahinda Rajapakse’s meeting with corporation representatives no steps have been taken to protect employees or to punish those responsible for five physical assaults on staff attributed to henchmen of Labour Minister, Mervyn Silva.
The minister was involved in a further incident on 19 March, when he threatened a crew from Sirasa TV, which was covering the construction of a bridge in Kelaniya, near Colombo.
“This time I am just lifting a finger, but next time I will lift my hand, if you come back,” the minister shouted at the journalists. The head of Sirasa TV has reported the incident to the Inspector General of Police, Victor Perrera.
Mervyn Silva has a history of open hostility towards journalists and led a brutal raid against SLRC staff on 27 December 2007.
Three journalists on Outreachlk website released
Reporters Without Borders welcomed the release on 19 March of three journalists working for the website Outreachlk. They were held by anti-terrorist police for 12 days.
Journalist Kithsiri Wijesinghe, photographer Gayan Lasantha Ranga and cameraman Udayanan, were arrested by anti-terror police on 7 March, after coming under suspicion of receiving money from the Tamil Tigers. Some of them were beaten in the first days of their detention in an attempt to extract confessions. Reporters Without Borders has obtained evidence that the money in question came chiefly from a German foundation, without any link with the Tamil rebels of the L.TTE.
Owner of the printers and Tamil writer, V. Jasikaran, as well as the director of the website and journalist on the Sunday Times, J. S. Tissanayagam, are still in police custody. The latter has appealed to the Supreme Court for his release and complained of “inhuman conditions” of detention