A delegation comprising Mazhar Abbas, Bureau Chief, AFP, Karachi, and Secretary General, Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), Jacqueline Park, Director, International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Asia Pacific, Laxmi Murthy, Program Manager, IFJ and Sunanda Deshapriya, Convener, Free Media Movement (FMM), on October 24, met the Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister and Defence Spokesperson, Government of Sri Lanka.
The delegation was part of the South Asian Editors Mission visiting Sri Lanka in response to the precarious condition of media workers following the recent deterioration of the security situation in the country.
The delegation handed over a letter from Christopher Warren, President of the IFJ, furnishing details of media workers killed during the last two years. Mr Rambukwella assured the delegation that he would look into each of the cases mentioned.
On October 10, Mr Rambukwella had met a delegation representing the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission, including IFJ, which had come to Sri Lanka to assess the press freedom environment in the country.
The text of the submission follows.
Hon. Keheliya Rambukwella
Minister and Defence Spokesperson,
Government of Sri Lanka
Let me first of all express the sincere regret of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and our condolences to those families who have suffered loss as a result of the attacks over the past few months of escalated violence.
You will recall that on October 10 you met a delegation representing the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), which had come to Sri Lanka to assess the press freedom environment in the country. During this meeting you were enjoined to give assurances about the investigation of a number of deaths of media workers.
The IFJ, along with the delegation and its sponsors, welcomed your pledge on that day that you would see to it that all cases would be fully investigated and that progress reports would be made available on a regular basis. As your information about the number of deaths and the circumstances did not match with the documentation undertaken by civil society of these murders, we take this opportunity to furnish the relevant details.
The particular journalists and media workers, who were the subject of the request, are as follows:
· Darmaratnam Sivaram - On 29 April, Darmaratnam Sivaram’s body was discovered near the Sir Lankan parliamentary complex in a high security zone in Colombo. An unidentified gang abducted Sivaram from outside a restaurant the previous day at 10:30pm. The high security zone where Sivaram’s body was found is tightly patrolled by Sri Lankan government security forces, leading local groups to blame the government for his murder. Darmaratnam Sivaram, also known as ‘Taraki’, was a political columnist with the English language newspaper, The Daily Mirror and member of editorial board of tamilnet.com, and was an outspoken critic of the Sri Lankan government.
· Relangi Selvarajah on August 12 - Relangi Selvarajah and her husband were shot dead by unknown gunmen at around 1pm in Bambalapitiya, Colombo Sri Lanka. Selvarajah had previously worked as a TV presenter with the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC) and was working as a journalist with Sri Lanka Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC).
· Subramaniyam Sugirdharajan - On January 24,Sugirdharajan, a Trincomalee port employee as well as a journalist was shot dead as he waited for a bus to go to work in the morning. He had published photographs and news reports critical of the army and of paramilitary groups active in Trincomalee, in the newspaper Sudaroli Oli. His photographs of the 5 students killed in Trincomalee on January 2 helped contest the original reports that they had been killed by grenades.
· Suresh Kumar & Ranjith Kumar - On May 3, as journalists gathered in Colombo to celebrate Press Freedom Day, a group of unidentified men attacked the office of the Uthayan newspaper in the northern city of Jaffna. Suresh Kumar, the Marketing Manager and Ranjith Kumar, working in the Circulation Department, were killed. 5 others were injured and the office damaged. The Police took 6 persons into custody in this regard but allowed bail. Some sources in Jaffna have alleged that these persons were not involved in the incident at all.
· Lakmal de Silva - On July 2, freelance journalist Sampath Lakmal de Silva was shot dead by an unknown group on 2nd July 2006. He was abducted at 5:00 a.m. (local time) from his parents' home in Borallasgamuwa, south of Colombo. He was found shot dead three kilometres from his home. His mother said he went out to meet some military operatives, known to him for some time.
· Mariathas Manojanraj - On August 1, newspaper vendor Mariathas Manojanraj was killed by a mine that was set off as he was going to Jaffna on 27 July to collect newspapers for distribution. The attack came as death threats are being made against the distributors of Tamil-language newspapers.
· Sathasivam Baskaran - On August 16, driver come distributor of the Jaffna based Uthayan newspaper was shot dead. Sathasivam Baskaran, 44, was gunned down in his Uthayan delivery vehicle after taking advantage of the temporary lifting of an army curfew to deliver copies of the newspaper. He was shot while driving his clearly-marked vehicle in an area controlled by the Sri Lankan armed forces. According to the Tamilnet website, he was killed by soldiers.
· Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah - On August 21, Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, managing director of the Jaffna based Tamil-language Namathu Eelanadu newspaper, was shot dead in Vellippalai. Police are investigating the murder, according to news reports. The motive for the killing is unclear. Subsequent to the murder newspaper Namathu Eelanadu publication was closed.
I am sure that you are familiar with all these cases. These journalists and other media workers have all been killed in last 16 months.
We would respectfully ask that you call for progress reports in all the investigations into the murders of these individuals, and make this material public as soon as possible, with copies sent to our local organisations, which in the case of IFJ, is the Free Media Movement (FMM).
For your information I have enclosed a list of the organisations that sponsored the delegation.
I understand that you have a busy schedule, and for that reason, may I thank you on behalf of the International Federation of Journalists for extending the time and courtesy to the members of the delegation who you so generously agreed to see and with whom you spent a significant amount of time on October 10.
We look forward to seeing your response to this letter.
International Federation of Journalists
The International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission is comprised of international press freedom and media development organisations, including:
1. ARTICLE 19
3. International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
4. International Media Support (IMS)
5. International Press Institute (IPI)
6. International News Safety Institute (INSI)
7. Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
8. South Asia Press Commission (SAPC)
9. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
10. World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC)
11. World Association of Newspapers (WAN)
12. World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries