Concerns mount for Safety of Journalists in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is concerned by reports of disturbing details surrounding threats made by a group of people against the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and Silumina provincial news editor, Poddala Jayantha, at his home.

The registration number of one of the vehicles used by members of the group during the incident was traced to Matara police station, according to Free Media Movement (FMM), an affiliate of the IFJ.

FMM reported that about 3am on January 7, a group of people dressed in civilian clothes arrived at Mr Jayantha’s house in a police jeep and a white van. The group claimed to be from the police and demanded entry to the home of Mr Jayantha, who has been at the forefront of the struggle for press freedom in Sri Lanka’s rapidly deteriorating human rights environment.

Aware that journalists and press freedom defenders had been receiving death threats in the previous two weeks, Mr Jayantha’s wife refused the group entry. The group threatened to use force and Mrs Jayantha called upon neighbours, who quickly gathered at the household. The group then retreated to their vehicles, according to FMM.

A witness at the scene noted the vehicles’ registration numbers. The police jeep was traced to Matara police station. However, FMM reports that Matara police said the vehicle had not been released for any search and arrest operations and no search operation had been ordered in the area.

In a similar incident in December, three people claiming to be telephone officials visited the home of photojournalist Anuruddha Lokuhapuarachchi while he was at work. One of the three left a police identity document claiming the group was from the intelligence service. Inquiries made by FMM suggested no police intelligence officers had visited Mr Lokuhapuarachchi’s home.

On December 27, Sri Lanka’s Labour Minister, Mervyn Silva, physically and verbally abused officials of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC). According to news reports, Mr Silva assaulted SLRC’s news director, TMG Chandrasekara, at the premises of the public television broadcaster.

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White sent a letter to Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on January 10, expressing the IFJ’s grave concern about the escalation of attacks against journalists of all backgrounds in Sri Lanka. In the letter, the IFJ called upon President Rajapaksa to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution to Protect Journalists Reporting in War Zones and Crisis Areas, which was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2006.

IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said the harassment of journalists by authorities must be taken very seriously and she called for an immediate government inquiry into Mr Jayantha’s case.

“The situation for journalists is deteriorating in Sri Lanka since the Government formally withdrew from the ceasefire with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on January 2 and is deeply concerning to the IFJ,” she said.

“Recent attacks against the media by government officials and authorities are unacceptable and undermine the essential role of journalists to hold public figures and authorities accountable for their actions. The Government must make a solid commitment to protect media personnel and enshrine their right to protection within the law.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries