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