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.