5th August 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged to record the disgraceful and violent behaviour of the Minister of Labour Mervyn Silva in assaulting two journalists from the Sirasa television network in full view of the Police, a larger number of other VIPs and the general public. This latest affront to media freedom by a Government Minister took place at the opening of a new flyover bridge in Kelaniya yesterday.
We note with deep regret that not a single police officer present when this incident took place intervened to stop the attack by the Minister.
On an invitation by the Ministry of Highways, the Sirasa TV had sent a crew of two to cover the opening of second phase of the flyover bridge at Kelaniya. As it is well known that Mervyn Silva physically and verbally attacks the MBC Network at every given opportunity, Sirasa TV had asked for the assurance from the Ministry of Highways that the journalists sent to cover the event would not be harmed. The Media Secretary for the Ministry of Highways, Shirantha Premawardene, had given this assurance.
However, Mervyn Silva and his coterie of murderous thugs had assaulted Sirasa TV journalists Thushara Saliya Ranawaka and video cameramen Waruna Sampath and seized their cameras. Sirasa TV footage of the attack shows very clearly that it was Minister who led the attack. The Minister’s snarling threat, that he will have to break the Buddhist teaching of not taking any person’s life is clearly audible in the TV footage. This beggars belief and the FMM unequivocally condemns this dastardly act. Sirasa TV News Director Susil Kindelpitiya has made three complaints to the Police against the errant Minister but no action has taken to question him or bring him to book.
A Government that even at the recently concluded South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting stated that media freedom was vibrant in Sri Lanka is unable and unwilling to hold this notorious Minister accountable for his actions. And while he enjoys complete impunity and the protection from those at the highest levels of political office, journalists have to live with the consequences of being attacked, their equipment damaged, their lives put at risk and Police who turn a blind eye to their plight.
The well-known and universally condemned violent assault by this Minister against State owned TV broadcaster Rupavahini in December 2007 has not resulted in any investigation whatsoever. On 28th July at about 11.00 p.m., the Minister with a band of thugs had broken into a shop in Industrial Zone at Nuwaragala in Pollonnaruwa District owned by Mr. K.M.L. Jayasinghe, a supporter of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) political party, assaulted the people in the shop, shot at them and damaged the shop and motor bicycles parked at the shop according to the Media Unit of the JVP.
No one has questioned the Minister to date.
The FMM challenges the government and cabinet sub committee to investigate attacks against the media to take immediate action against this brutish Minister. We have already noted the inefficacy of the sub-committee to strengthen media freedom in Sri Lanka. The failure to bring this Minister to book, who epitomizes the Government’s callous disregard for the freedom of expression and media freedom, is to directly support violence against media in Sri Lanka.