Threats Increase Concerns for Detained Media Worker and Family in Sri Lanka – IFJ

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) holds grave fears for the safety of detained Tamil media worker N. Jesiharan and his family in Sri Lanka after the family received threats and demands for ransom in return for Jesiharan’s safety while in detention.

The IFJ appeals to Sri Lanka’s Minister for Human Rights and Disaster Management, Mahinda Samarasinghe, to honour a commitment he made to assure Jesiharan of protection while in custody.

Jesiharan is currently on trial on charges laid under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, Jesiharan’s family in a remote village in the volatile Batticoloa District, in Sri Lanka’s east, reported receiving three threatening phone calls on November 25 and 26. The caller demanded a ransom of Rs100,000 (about $US920) to keep Jesiharan alive, the FMM reports.

The family lodged a complaint with the Kalavanchikudi police station. However, the duty police officer told the FMM the police could not take action because the caller’s number could not be identified.

Jesiharan, the owner of E-Kwality Printers, and his partner Valarmathi were detained by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lankan police in March, along with senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam.

After being held for more than 150 days without charge, all three were indicted on August 25 under the PTA, and are now on trial. The charges refer to the content of Tissainayagam’s journalistic work.

Jesiharan and Tissainayagam were unexpectedly moved from a remand prison to the notoriously violent Magazine Prison in Colombo following a visit from Samarasinghe on November 17. Samarasinghe had promised to improve their conditions of detention.

After local and international press freedom groups expressed extreme concern about the move, two representatives from the Human Rights and Disaster Management Ministry reportedly visited the two men in prison and confirmed that they were not being held with other prisoners.

“The threats made to Jesiharan’s family make it even more imperative that Sri Lanka’s Government and authorities fulfill their responsibility to ensure no harm comes to Jesiharan, Valarmathi and Tissainayagam, nor to their families” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

The IFJ joins the FMM in calling on Minister Samarasinghe to increase security for all three, and to investigate fully the threats against Jesiharan’s family and to ensure the perpetrator of the threats is brought to justice.

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Journalist Released from Detention in Sri Lanka – IFJ

 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is relieved to report the release from detention of A.R. Vanna Loshan by Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Division (TID) on November 22.

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, the TID handed Loshan over to his parents after eight days in detention without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). The TID reportedly gave no reason for Loshan’s detention or release. 

Loshan, the general manager Vettri FM radio station, has worked as a radio journalist for almost 10 years and took up his post at the Tamil-language station in early 2008.

“The release of A.R. Vanna Loshan provides a glimmer of hope for Sri Lanka’s independent media that the draconian PTA and Emergency Regulations will not be used systemically in an effort to silence critics,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

“The IFJ stands by its principles that freedom of expression is a universally recognised human right, and anti-terror laws must not be wielded as a weapon to quash that right.”

Loshan’s release is welcome news to Sri Lanka’s media and press freedom community, who continue to fight for the unconditional release of senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainyagam and printing press owners N. Jesiharan and his partner Valamarthi.

On March 7 and 8, TID officials arrested Tissainayagam, Jesiharan and Valarmathi under the PTA. The three were held without charge for more than five months until formal indictments under the PTA were issued in August.

Court proceedings against the three are currently under way.

The IFJ joins the FMM and local organisations in acknowledging international advocacy for the release of Loshan and in urging continued concerted action to demand that the rights of Tissainayagam and his colleagues be upheld, including their right to justice and protection while in custody.

Radio Manager Detained Under Draconian Terror Law in Sri Lanka

 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed that Sri Lanka’s Terrorism Investigation Division has again used the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) to detain another Tamil journalist without charge.

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, a group of 13 people identifying themselves as police officials arrested Vettri FM Radio’s general manager, A.R. Vanna Loshan, at his home late on November 14.

Loshan, who has worked as a radio journalist for almost 10 years and took up his post at the Tamil-language radio station in early 2008, is being detained at the TID detention centre in Colombo.

“A.R. Vanna Loshan is the third media worker to be detained under the alarmingly vague and oppressive PTA for matters related to his work as a journalist,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

On March 7 and 8, TID officials arrested senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and printing press owner N. Jesiharan and his partner Valarmathi applying the PTA.  

The three were held without charge for more than five months until formal indictments under the PTA were issued in August. Court proceedings against the three are currently under way.

“The Government’s use of draconian legislation against the media in the name of national security is a clear effort to undermine press freedom and silence voices of dissent in Sri Lanka,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

“The IFJ calls on authorities in Sri Lanka to desist from using the PTA against the media, and to recognise that the questionable application of the PTA is further diminishing Sri Lanka’s standing in the international community.”

The IFJ joins the five leading media organisations in Sri Lanka, the FMM, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Union (FMETU) – all IFJ affiliates – and the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lankan Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA), in calling on the Government to bring Loshan before the courts immediately or release him without delay.

Sri Lankan Minister Indicted on Charges of Assaulting Journalists

18 November 2008

SOURCE: International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Brussels

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) welcomes an indictment
issued by the High Court in Colombo, Sri Lanka, against Labour Minister
Mervyn Silva and three others accused of alleged violence against
journalists.

However, the IFJ joins its affiliate, the Free Media Movement (FMM), in
calling for the Minister to be stood down from his position until the
conclusion of the case.

According to the FMM, Silva is indicted on nine counts of unlawful
assembly, mischief, robbery and assault involving Sirasa TV journalists at
Peliyagoda on August 4.

The others similarly accused are Dulan Hettiarachchi, Prasanna Ranaweera
and Nihal Chandrawansa (alias Manchi Nihal).

One charge relates to the alleged confiscation of videotapes from Sirasa TV
journalists Waruna Sampath and Saliya Ranawaka as they reported on a
community event.

The remaining charges concern allegations that the four stole money from
the journalists, damaged the journalists’ cameras and assaulted Sampath.

“The IFJ is pleased that the allegations against Mervyn Silva will be dealt
with through the legal system,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

“However, such serious charges against a Minister of the Government require
that he be stood down from his ministerial position while the case is being
dealt with by the courts.”

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide.

IFJ Joins Sri Lanka International Mission Statement

 
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), as part of the third visit of the International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka between October 25 and 29, has joined a statement expressing concern at the deterioration in the situation since the last visit in June 2007.

Among the most serious developments that the mission encountered was the use of terrorism legislation, for the first time in the democratic world, to punish journalists purely for what they have written. J.S. Tissainayagam, B. Jasiharan and V. Vallarmathy have been detained since March 2008 and in the case of the first-named, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) was invoked well after the period of 3 months stipulated for bringing charges.

Tissainayagam was a well-regarded columnist for the Sunday Times and the editor and publisher of the North-Eastern Herald, a monthly magazine that has in recent years carried some trenchant commentaries on the Sri Lankan government’s offensive against the Tamil separatist insurgency in the country. Jasiharan, who is charged under the PTA for the crimes of inciting racial animosity and aiding and abetting terrorism, is the printer of the magazine, and Vallarmathy is his fiancée.

The mission has placed on record its concern at the dangerous precedent the prosecution of Tissainayagam, Jasiharan and Vallarmathy sets for all media nationally and internationally.

In recent months, the mission found, journalists and media institutions seeking to report independently on the ongoing conflict have been attacked and intimidated in a seeming effort to limit public knowledge about the conduct of the war. They have also been explicitly pressured on multiple occasions, to reveal their sources. This, the mission has held, is a gross violation of the public right to know and the accepted norm that media sources should be protected.
 
Media in the North and East of the country continue to suffer from the worst forms of insecurity. Days before the mission visit, the office of Tamil Alai, a weekly newspaper published from the eastern provincial town of Batticaloa by the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Puli (TMVP) – the party that controls the provincial government — became the site of an armed confrontation between rival factions. As tension rose within the newspaper premises, the local police intervened to award control to one of the TMVP factions.

The mission was told lives of journalists in the eastern province of Sri Lanka, are constantly threatened by all parties to the conflict in an effort to curtail independent reporting. Aside from the security forces, which function with complete impunity, the main Tamil insurgent organisation, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), remains active. With the rival factions of the TMVP also locked in bitter confrontation, the threats that journalists face are four-fold in their origin.

The mission condemned the murder of P. Devakumar, a journalist with the Sirasa TV channel, in Jaffna in May 2008.

Quite apart from the threats to the life and liberty of media personnel, the mission found in evidence a legislative effort to curb media independence. Media rules gazetted on October 10 by the Sri Lankan Government provide for a number of contingencies under which broadcasting licences could be cancelled, including seven different grounds related to broadcast content.

Broadcast channels will now have to apply annually for licence renewal.

A popular broadcast channel has since been put on notice that it is to submit transcripts of news broadcasts “to be carried” every week as of October 28. The majority of the media community in Sri Lanka has read this as a transparent attempt to impose prior restraint on the content of news and current affairs programming. Concurring with this reading, the mission condemned the effort to impose censorship under another name.

The mission placed on record its dismay at the repeated instances of elected representatives and high officials of the Government using violence and inflammatory language against media workers and institutions. The mission found that state-owned media, including the website of the Ministry of Defence, have contributed to the vilification of independent media. Such actions were quite transparently, aimed at discrediting independent media. They contributed to a climate of intolerance and hostility towards media institutions perceived to be independent, posing a clear and present danger to the lives and safety of journalists.

The IFJ and the mission team applaud the solidarity and resolve shown by the five organisations of journalists in Sri Lanka – the Free Media Movement, Sri Lankan Working Journalists’ Association, Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions, Sri Lankan Tamil Media Alliance and Sri Lankan Muslim Media Forum – in a tough and challenging situation.

Moreover, the mission expressed its sense of appreciation for the solidarity displayed by media owners and editors in seeking to bring the perpetrators of recent attacks to justice.

The mission process is coordinated by International Media Safety, Copenhagen, Denmark and it includes 12 international professional organisations. The first visit to Sri Lanka of the mission, occurred in October 2006, followed by a second visit in June 2007. The delegation for last visit comprised the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Media Support (IMS), International News Safety Institute (INSI), International Press Institute (IPI), and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The IFJ has been part of all three visits.

Members of the last mission delegation met with the President of Sri Lanka, Government Ministers, political parties, media owners and editors, journalists and media workers, human rights and legal experts, and the international community.

Further details on the mission process in Sri Lanka can be found at the website of International Media Support: http://www.i-m-s.dk.

Human rights matter – and they particularly matter for journalists.

Jacqueline ParkAsia-Pacific Director
International Federation of Journalists

They matter to our societies and, as journalists, they give us objective criteria we can use to assess how our governments are performing and standards to measure those who hold power in society.

They matter to us in our day to day work. Human rights are essentially the air that we breathe, they frame the environment that allows us to keep our communities informed.

That’s why the International Federation of Journalists is so pleased to have been working with the Sri Lankan journalists community in this Human Rights Prize Summit.

The IFJ is the global union for journalists. It represents 600,000 journalists organised in 130 independent unions in 122 countries, including here in Sri Lanka.

It is the global voice for the rights of the media, and for those of us who work in it.

So, it gives me great pleasure to represent the IFJ on this important occasion as we recognise the courage and great journalism of our colleagues.

Journalists have a duty to examine and reveal the state of their societies. An important test of a well functioning society is the status of human rights – are they upheld or are they violated?

Do all members of the society enjoy their rights equally – children, young people, women and men, different ethnic groups?

The significance of rights in public service journalism is threefold.

• First, good journalism is focused on the rights of citizens as a matter of course, whether in a subtle or an overt way.
• Second, good journalism relies on the right to freedom of thought and expression. This cannot exist where human rights are abused.
• Third, journalists have a right to be protected – to be safe from violence or other abuse —  in carrying out their work.

And unfortunately we have seen too much harassment, aggression and murder of journalists simply for doing there job here in Sri Lanka.

This is a special war – a war on journalism.

We have seen it in the targeted killing of Tamil media workers – no fewer than 14 media workers have been killed in the past two and a half years. This has had the chilling effect of closing down any independent reporting from the North. The LTTE has never allowed independent reporting from areas they have controlled. Unfortunately we are seeing the same now in Government controlled areas.

For the first time we see the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act used against journalists purely because of their journalism. Tissanayagaram remains in jail for his journalism.

This is not a problem, for Sri Lankan or for Sri Lankan journalism. Tissa’s is the crisis for world journalism.

In the past decade’s so-called war on terror, this is the first time that a journalist has been charged with terrorism offences purely because of something he has written.

This is a shocking, shocking development and it should be a source of deep shame to the government of Sri Lanka.

The International media community is united in its concern for Tissa and stand with our Sri Lankan colleagues in a global campaign for  his release. 

We see human rights under threat from hate speech from those intolerant of independent critical reporting — endangering the lives of journalists to the horror of our colleagues around the world.

Defence correspondents have been particularly targeted —  beaten, threatened and forced to flee the country — shutting down critical coverage of the conduct of the war.

As the media freedom representative to the OSCE Miklos Haraszti said recently: “There is only one thing more intimidating for free speech than harassment, physical attacks, and murder of media workers; and that is when governments tolerate harassment, attacks, and murders.”

When people know they can attack, abuse and kill journalists without risk,  the crimes are  encouraged and perpetuated.

Where there is apathy and inaction, law enforcement come to seem to share the motives of the perpetrators.

This impunity does not start with the failure to successfully investigate and prosecute murders of journalists.

It starts with hateful attacks against journalists by those in power and the criminalisation of the work of journalists

All this sends a message that it’s open season on journalists.

In all this, Sri Lanka risks being seen as a rogue player. Around the democratic world, governments around the world are recognising that they need to act on their responsibility to protect journalists, a recognition embodied in a recent UN Security Council resolution

These attacks corrode our media and our democracy:

• Beating a journalist not only punished the journalist for their work. It sends a clear message to their colleagues, editors, owners, and to all their families and this has a chilling effect on media freedom and open discussion.

• Violence becomes censorship far beyond the context of the actual controversy; it will impede the press in performing its most important task in defence of democracy, because it is journalists covering human rights abuses and corruption scandals that are most punished with violence.

• The effect of the violence extends to the whole society by collapsing editors’ willpower. Editors are the ones in any democracy that practically define which issues are to be reported and discussed.

• Finally, violence against journalists joins even the forces that commercialise the media. It adds the element of physical fear to the effects that today are pushing the media away from meaningful information, towards empty entertainment.

Despite the deterioration, there are some positive signs. We welcome the Governments moves to put this situation visibly high on the national agenda with the creation of the cabinet subcommittee to look into journalists safety.

The emerging dialogue between the President and government and journalists is another positive step in rebuilding trust and understanding for independent journalism.

Genuine determination and broad support from the government is essential to protect journalists. Government must acknowledge the links between governmental respect for media and the level of societal violence against the media.

Tonight we are here to recognize that despite these difficult circumstances, journalists are fighting back. 

I’m proud to acknowledge tonight the many brave journalists that are not with us — the journalists shot, beaten, jailed, forced to flee — all for doing their job:

I’m also proud to acknowledge the brave media community, led by the five organisations, that continues to stand in solidarity and in the face of many threats for their right to freedom of expression and the public’s right to know.

 

We still have a long way to go in implementing and entrenching the principles of public service journalism across all media in Sri Lanka.

Change is happening and we can be proud of what we achieving and setting in place for future generations of journalists.

Without the solidarity achieved and strengthened in these past few years these times could be much darker.

Tonight we recognize those achievements with the Public Service Journalism prize and the IFJ Human Rights prize.

This year has seen 750 entries and a record number of women shortlisted for the awards. For this the national and provincial journalists organizations must be congratulated. And to the editors that have shown great support for the awards, thank you.

Higher quality of reportage is a concrete outcome of greater professionalism.

That is, more and more we can see the principles of public service journalism in practice, strengthening our profession and strengthening our communities.

Tonight’s awards are a part of that process. They reward the dedication and work of provincial journalists and recognise the real-world value and impacts that high-quality reporting can and does have on the lives of ordinary people.

(Presentation to Human Rights Prize Summit
Colombo, 24 October 2008)

Sri Lankan Journalist Critically Injured in Shooting – IFJ

 

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemns the attempted murder of journalist Radhika Devakumar in her home in Batticaloa, in Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province, on September 8.

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, a gang of unidentified gunmen entered Devakumar’s house and shot her three times in the abdomen, chest and shoulder, leaving her critically injured.

Devakumar works as the media secretary for a minister of the Eastern Provincial Council. She had previously worked as a provincial correspondent for the Tinkaran Tamil language daily for eight years and as a freelancer for Shakthi TV. She also ran her own media development organisation near Batticaloa town, the FMM reports.

In 2007, as a radio program producer for Internews, Devakumar won the national award for Reporting Diversity and Respect for Tolerance under the Public Service Media Prize Program organised by Sri Lanka’s five leading journalists’ organisations.

“The attack on Radhika Devakumar is a gross violation of her human rights,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

“Sadly, such violations are all too common in Sri Lanka. More than a dozen journalists and media workers have been murdered in the country since 2006, and in not one case has a perpetrator been brought to justice.”

FMM said the failure to protect journalists in Sri Lanka shows that the rule of law is hostage to armed groups, which does not bode well for sustainable and meaningful peace in the country.

The IFJ joins FMM in condemning the attack on Devakumar and demanding that authorities conduct immediately an independent inquiry and provide appropriate protection for Devakumar’s family until the perpetrators are brought to justice.