The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that Sri Lanka’s Government has appointed a recently retired army Major General to a senior position at the troubled state broadcaster, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC).
The appointment came as authorities released three journalists who had been held without charge for almost two weeks. Two other journalists arrested at the same time remain in custody.
According to IFJ affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM), Maj. Gen. Sunil Silva has been appointed as Additional Deputy Director General, Administration, at SLRC. FMM reports this is a newly created post.
Maj. Gen. Sunil Silva was head of the Army Signals Regiment before retiring officially on January 18, 2008. He is expected to assume his duties in coming days.
The appointment follows threatened strike action by staff at SLRC to demand protection in the face of a series of threats and attacks on staff allegedly linked to a melee at the station’s office on December 27, when Labour Minister Mervyn Silva assaulted SLRC news director TMG Chandrasekara.
Meanwhile, the IFJ welcomed the release on March 19 of three journalists and media workers associated with www.outreachsl.com. However, it remained extremely concerned for the safety and well-being of two other people connected with www.outreachsl.com who remain in custody.
The three who were released are journalist K. Wijesingha, cameraman Ranga Lasanatha and visual editor Udayanan. They were arrested by the Terrorist Information Department (TID) between March 7 and 8.
Journalist J.S Tissainayagam, editor of www.outreachsl.com, and N. Jasiharan, the owner of E-Kwality Printers and a writer for the website, are still detained.
Jasiharan was arrested by TID officers on March 6. His laptop computer and printed material from the printing press were also confiscated.
Tissainayagam was arrested by TID officers on March 7. He was detained under emergency regulations for 30 days. On March 19, an application was filed on his behalf with the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka regarding alleged unlawful arrest and detention.
The IFJ and its affiliates, the FMM, the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU) and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), as well as the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA), demand that authorities make transparent the reasons for the arrests and follow due legal process in the cases of Tissainayagam and Jasiharan.
“The IFJ joins its affiliates in appealing to the Sri Lankan Government to release J.S. Tissainayagam and N. Jasiharan if they are not brought to court or charges are not laid in due time,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
“The IFJ is also very concerned for the safety of all journalists in Sri Lanka. For example, the series of attacks and threats against SLRC staff since December have been permitted to continue without any intervention by authorities.
“In times of conflict and insecurity, a military appointment to the state broadcaster raises concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression and association at the state broadcaster.
“The appointment of Maj. Gen. Sunil Silva to the SLRC does nothing to allay concerns for the well-being of SLRC staff and press freedom in general in Sri Lanka. Rather, the IFJ is disturbed that the appointment of someone closely associated with the military has been made immediately following the in-house union’s demands that staff be protected, as is their right.”