The International Federation of
Journalists (IFJ) strongly denounces an appeal by Sri
Lanka’s Defence spokesman urging journalists in Sri Lanka to
inform authorities about what he described as suspicious activities by fellow journalists.
Defence spokesman Keheliya
Rambukwella was reported in local media on January 23 to have called on "journalists and all
those attached to media organisations … to be vigilant about those who enter
the media field”. He asks journalists to report “any person who appears
Rambukwella reportedly asked
journalists to help in apprehending cadre of the insurgent Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who he alleged are “moving about in the guise of
“The IFJ deplores efforts by
government members to recruit journalists into a McCarthy-style witch-hunt. The
role of journalists is to report all sides, fairly and accurately, without fear or favour,” IFJ
General Secretary Aidan White said.
rhetoric is an attempt to divide journalists at a time when the challenges they
face in terms of professional freedom and physical security are at their most
acute. There is a clear effort under way to stamp
out independent reporting and critical commentary of the Government and its
conduct of the war with the LTTE.”
The call for journalists to inform
on one another came as the Defence Ministry reported arresting Prakash Shakthi
Velupillai at Colombo
airport on January 22.
The Ministry accused Velupillai of
being an LTTE activist and posing as a journalist. The Ministry claimed he was
about to take a flight to Singapore
and was allegedly carrying forged press credentials. Rambukwella is quoted as saying Velupillai was attached to the IFJ
and its partners in Colombo.
The IFJ reports that Velupillai is
not attached to the IFJ or any of its affiliates, although it is believed that
he had worked as a freelance journalist. The IFJ calls on authorities in Sri Lanka to
make public his whereabouts and the conditions in which he is being held.
The climate of fear surrounding Sri Lanka’s media
community has resulted
in several prominent journalists, including the leadership of some of the
main unions and associations, leaving the country in fear for their personal safety.
Sources say at least 10 journalists have gone into voluntary exile in
the past week. This is apart from more than a dozen who left over the past year
on account of threats to their lives.
The exodus of journalists follows the daylight murder of the
well-respected editor of The Sunday
Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, on January 7 and comes as unknown
assailants attacked the editor of the Sinhala weekly Rivira, Upali
Tennekoon, and his wife with a knife on January 23.
“The IFJ is extremely concerned that several of the journalists who have
been forced into exile have been directly threatened by people holding senior
positions in the Government and the Sri Lankan security services,” White said.
The IFJ is
also concerned by any attempt to discredit the work of international
organisations which assist to promote human rights in Sri Lanka, including the right of
Sri Lankan citizens to a free media, freedom of expression and freedom of
The IFJ urges
Rambukwella to withdraw his insinuations about the IFJ.
The IFJ clarifies that in Sri Lanka,
as elsewhere in the world, it operates through local affiliate organisations
that are fully compliant with national law.
The three formal affiliates of the
IFJ in Sri Lanka
are the Free Media Movement (FMM),
the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of
Media Employees’ Trade Unions (FMETU). Together with the Sri Lanka Muslim Media
Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA), these
organisations form a strong coalition of journalists’ organisations in Sri Lanka.
All these organisations have
contributed richly to keeping media issues in the spotlight all through Sri Lanka’s
25-year civil war, including in the latest phase of hostilities.
The IFJ calls on President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence
Rajapakse and the senior leadership of Sri Lanka’s armed forces to take a strong public
stand to end the persistent intimidation and harassment of journalists in Sri Lanka.
“The strongest affirmation from the highest level is required to prevent
lasting damage to the foundations of media freedom in Sri Lanka,” White
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
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represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries