Sri Lanka journalists harassed: media group

 

COLOMBO (AFP) — Journalists covering Sri Lanka’s war with Tamil Tiger rebels are being harassed despite a government pledge to take action to protect the press, a rights group said Friday.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) reported eight incidents of threats and intimidation, just two weeks after a ministerial committee was formed to look at the issue of media rights.

The incidents included verbal death threats, assaults in public places and visits to journalists’ homes by people claiming to be from the police, the statement said.

“It is apparent that the cabinet sub-committee… is powerless to foster media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka, or investigate meaningfully the violence directed at journalists,” the FMM said.

The rights group demanded a probe into the recent incidents and asked the committee to tell police to respect journalists.

In June, Sri Lanka’s hawkish defence ministry published several editorials which labelled journalists and reporters “cowboy defence analysts” and “enemies of the state.”

The defence ministry presented reporters with a stark choice of being either pro-government or “pro-terrorist” — sparking renewed alarm among media rights activists about freedom of the press in Sri Lanka.

Since August 2005, 12 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka, which is regarded as the second-most dangerous place for journalists after Iraq.

Eleven of them died in government-controlled areas and no one has been brought to justice in connection with the deaths.

Sri Lanka’s bitter ethnic war, which has left thousands of people dead, has escalated sharply since January, when the government pulled out of a Norwegian-brokered truce with the Tamil Tigers.

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Sri Lanka Government Must Honour Promise to Investigate Abuses

 

As journalists in Sri Lanka continue to suffer intimidation and harassment, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on Sri Lanka’s Government to make good on its recent commitment to investigate thoroughly all acts of violence directed toward members of Sri Lanka’s media community.

In late June, the five main journalists’ organisations in Sri Lanka welcomed the Government’s move to set up a Cabinet subcommittee to look into the grievances of journalists, but said the committee must build confidence among the media community by reporting promptly and transparently about the progress of its inquiries.

Since then, seven incidents have been reported in which media personnel have been intimidated and harassed. There is no evidence of the subcommittee seeking to investigate any of these incidents, let alone the long list of prior cases.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, said in a statement today: “Given the number of reports on the intimidation and harassment of journalists the FMM has received over the last two weeks, it is apparent that the Cabinet subcommittee appointed by the Government to look into the grievances of the media community is powerless to foster media freedom and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka or investigate meaningfully the violence directed against journalists.”

The FMM reports the following incidents since late June:

  •  In early July, FMM spokesman Sunanda Deshapriya was visited at his family home by people claiming to be police. It was subsequently discovered that they gave false names and positions.
  • On July 7, Sirasa TV reporter T. Jayakumar was threatened at the Supreme Court and asked not to report on a fundamental rights petition filed by a Major General against the military high command.
  •  On July 7, Chaminda Kulathunga, a provincial radio correspondent in Hambantota, was reportedly assaulted by police as he covered a demonstration. His identity card and tape recorder were confiscated. 
  • On July 7, Mahamuni Subramaniam, a provincial correspondent in the northern town of Vavuniya, was visited by a group of people who questioned him about a news photo of a June 16 bomb blast near the office of a police senior superintendent. He said two other Tamil journalists were also receiving regular threats and intimidation.
  • On July 13, a Sinhala nationalist newspaper ran an opinion piece accusing a photographer of working against national security because he took a photograph of a bomber plane departing from Sri Lanka’s international airport.
  • ·     On July 14, Meegoda Hemapala, a freelance provincial correspondent of Giraduru Kotte, was threatened by a mob that surrounded his house, angered by his reporting of a case of alleged child abuse. Hemapala said senior police also threatened him.
  • On July 16, an anonymous caller threatened staff at the Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI), including Director General Ranga Kalansuriya, who has received threats against his life.

“The IFJ demands that the Government of Sri Lanka make good on its promise and investigate promptly and transparently all attacks and intimidation directed against journalists and media institutions in Sri Lanka,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

“The Cabinet subcommittee set up to investigate violence against journalists in Sri Lanka is meaningless if it does not make serious and genuine efforts to resolve the crisis confronting journalists and media – and by extension, all citizens – in Sri Lanka.”

Intimidation and harassment of journalists continue unabated in Sri Lanka

 
18th July 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: Given the number of reports on the intimidation and harassment of journalists the Free Media Movement (FMM) has received over the last two weeks, it is apparent that the Cabinet Subcommittee appointed by the government to look into the grievances of media community is powerless to foster media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka or investigate meaningfully the violence directed journalists.

In early July persons calling themselves from the Police visited FMM spokesperson Sunanda Deshapriya’s residence.  He and his family had just moved to a newly rented residence and this incident took place within weeks of changing homes. It was found out that the names and positions given were completely false.

Sirasa TV court reporter T. Jayakumar was threatened and asked not to report a fundamental rights petition filed by a Major General against the military high command.   The petition was taken up for hearing in the Supreme Court on 7th July.  When the court proceedings ended a civil person came to journalist Jayakumar and threatened him against reporting the court proceedings to Sirasa. The FMM is aware that around one month ago unknown persons had visited his residence and asked questions about him.

 On 13th July a Sinhala nationalist Sunday newspaper carried a distorted and inflammatory opinion in its defense column accusing a photographer as working against the national security for talking a photograph of bomber taking off from Sri Lanka’s only international airport. The article said, “nowhere in the world is this kind of photograph allowed. Defense authorities should investigate how this foreign contractor journalist was able to take this photograph.”

On 7th July Journalist Chaminda Kulathunga provincial correspondent of Hambantota  for number of radio stations operating from Colombo reported to FMM that he was assaulted by Hanbantota Police HQI Kalinga Silva,  his national identity card and tape recorder was taken in to custody. He was covering a people’s agitation organized by Organization to Protect Peoples Rights in   Hambabtota demanding some roads and reservoirs to be repaired immediately. 

On 14th July Meegoda Hemapala, freelance provincial correspondent of Giraduru Kotte was threatened with death and his house was surrounded by a violent mob angered over his reporting of a child abuse case by police. Journalist Hemapala told the FMM that Police OIC  police had personally threatened him over this incident.
 
Provincial correspondent Mahamuni Subramaniam working from the Northern town of Vavuniya reported to FMM that he has been facing continuous intimidations from known and unknown groups. A group of persons has visited him on 7th July and questioned him about the photo published in the papers about the bomb blast in front of the Office of the Senior Superintendent of Police on 16th of June 2008. In his letter to the FMM Subramaniam says that two other Tamil journalists are living in fear for continuing threats and intimidations from various quarters.
 
On 16th July anonymous caller threatened Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) staff. The caller has said “Your boss has come to work today, we will bumped you all” The person referred to was Mr. Ranga Kalansuriya, the Director General of SLPI, reported to work that day after few days of working from home because of the threats against his life. This clearly shows there are persons who keep a close watch on SLPI and its staff movements.
 
On 16th July Tamil daily Veerakesari journalist was stopped by the Police at Town Hall junction in Colombo and questioned for nearly an half an hour although he produced his media accreditation and newspaper identity card.

Condemning all these attacks and intimidations on journalists and media institutions, FMM demands that the cabinet sub committee on media take immediate steps. 1. To investigate all these incidents in order to take appropriate measurers. 2. To advice police personal to respect journalists right to gather information and not to interfere with their professional activities.