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
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
· 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
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
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide