Sri Lankan Government Must End Incitement to Violence Against Journalists


The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) appeals to the international community to take urgent action to demand that Sri Lanka’s Government end immediately its campaign of accusing journalists of treason and association with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), after a prominent media rights defender was abducted and brutally assaulted yesterday.


Poddala Jayantha, a journalist and general secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), an IFJ affiliate, was abducted by at least six unknown people. He was bashed repeatedly with wooden and metal poles and his beard and hair were shaved off.


Local media reported that witnesses saw Jayantha pushed into a white van at Ambuldeniya junction, Nungegoda, in Colombo, about 5pm. He was then blindfolded before being assaulted and later dumped by a roadside.

The assailants crushed Jayantha’s fingers with a heavy wooden block, saying they would make sure he could not write again. His left leg is broken and he is suffering head injuries.


The IFJ firmly believes the Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa must accept responsibility for the violence against Jayantha and other journalists and media workers in Sri Lanka.


Leading government figures and officers have consistently accused journalists of treason and have conducted a systematic campaign to vilify any media personnel who dares to question the Government’s conduct of its war with the LTTE.


“Highly inflammatory public statements by government officials and the failure to investigate attacks on media personnel and to arrest perpetrators makes the Government implicitly responsible for the continuing violence against media in Sri Lanka,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.


The most recently recorded hate-inciting speech by a government authority was on May 28,when Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickramaratne was reported as telling state-owned Independent Television Network (ITN) that several journalists who reported on Sri Lanka’s conflict were reportedly on the LTTE payroll.


The local Daily Mirror reported that Wickramaratne said in the TV interview that many of the unnamed journalists were “connected with international organisations and had been always clamouring for media freedom and democratic and human rights of the people”.


ITN also reportedly aired images of Jayantha in another program, while repeating the Inspector General’s accusations.


On May 22, an editorial in the state-controlled Sinhala language daily called for stoning and expelling of professional journalists who grow beards. Jayantha is known for his beard.


While a vicious trend of violence against media personnel has been in play for several years, the murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge on January 8 heightened the climate of fear among the local media community. In an editorial published posthumously on January 11, Lasantha predicted his murder and attributed blame to the highest levels of the Government.


Abduction and assault of media personnel is commonplace in Sri Lanka. In none of the cases below has anyone been arrested or charged.


·   On March 11, Dammika Ganganath Dissanayake, media adviser to Sri Lanka’s principal opposition party and a former chairman of the state-owned broadcast agency, was abducted by armed men. He later said he had been blindfolded and questioned at length about a book criticising the President.


·   On February 26, N. Vidyatharan, editor of Colombo-based Tamil language newspaper Sudaroli and Jaffna-based Uthayan,was taken in a white van and believed abducted. It emerged he had been arrested by police. A Defence spokesman said the arrest and the manner in which it was conducted were justified because Vidyatharan was a “wanted person”.


·   On March 11, in an interview aired on an Australian news channel, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the President, accused Vithyatharan of being a “terrorist”. However, Vidyatharan was released on April 27 without charge.


·   On May 22, 2008, Keith Noyahr, a defence reporter for The Nation, was abducted and violently assaulted. He was released the next day and spent several days in intensive care.


The IFJ and other press freedom organisations are deeply concerned for the safety of journalists and media workers in Sri Lanka amid the climate of fear and retribution prevailing as the Government declares its war with the LTTE at an end.


National governments and the international community must call the Government of Sri Lanka to account, and demand it take action to end its own representatives’ hate campaign against media personnel and that it order high-level investigations into all attacks on media personnel.


For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919


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