Assault on freedom of expression: media forum


B. Muralidhar Reddy (The Hindu)

COLOMBO: A senior journalist associated with the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) and the head of the Political Division of the British High Commission were here on Monday waylaid and brutally assaulted.

There has been a sharp rise in the number of attacks on journalists in recent weeks amid a raging controversy over a set of guidelines the Defence Ministry issued to the media on the norms to be followed in reporting the ongoing war.

In response to persistent demands from the media community for a fair and speedy investigation, the government last week appointed a ministerial sub-committee to look into the matter. The Committee was formed after the police failed to make any breakthrough in the assault and intimidation of over a dozen journalists.

The victims of the latest incident were deputy head of the advocacy section of SLPI Namal Perera and Mahendra Amaraweera, a Sri Lankan national working as head, political section of the British High Commission.

A van blocked the car near the Information Ministry. The occupants broke the wind shield of the car and attempted to abduct Mr. Perera.

Mr. Perera and Mr. Amaraweera were badly beaten up and are undergoing treatment. The latter has suffered head injuries and is being treated in the critical care unit.

Legal action
As the news spread, Ministers, Leader of the Opposition and United National Party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe, Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) leader Somawansa Amarasinghe, the British High Commissioner and scores of media personnel reached the hospital.

Publishers of the local media are to hold an emergency meeting to decide on the response to the spate of attacks. Journalist organisations are scheduled to hold a protest demonstration close to the President’s Office on Wednesday.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), a Colombo-based NGO concerned with the welfare of the media community, said that at the time of the assault, the SLPI was contemplating legal action against the state-controlled Dinamina newspaper for reporting that the SLPI had sent members of the LTTE to Denmark as journalists.

“This latest incident is sadly typical of the rampant assault on democracy and the freedom of expression that is taking place in Sri Lanka today. State-controlled media and government ministry websites are in the habit of baselessly demonising journalists and media professionals as supporters of the LTTE, and acts of physical harm are being committed with total impunity,” said FMM Convener Sunanda Deshapriya.