The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) warns that the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka is in serious jeopardy as several serious attacks and anti-media statements by government officials demonstrate a lack of respect for the value of media freedom in the country.
The IFJ joins the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lankan Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists’ Alliance (SLTJA) in condemning all attacks on journalists in the country.
The IFJ is concerned by a series of recent incidents, including a knife attack on Lal Hemantha Mawalage on January 25. The producer in the news division of the state-controlled Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) was reportedly attacked by two unidentified men on his way home in Athurigiriya, a suburb of Colombo.
The FMM, an affiliate of the IFJ, reported Mawalage had received continuous death threats since speaking on behalf of SLRC employees regarding an aggressive intrusion into SLRC’s offices by Labour Minister Mervyn Silva on December 27, 2007. Mawalage’s vehicle was intentionally hit by another car on January 23. The FMM said the incidents were believed to be linked to the Minister and Mawalage’s public role in the SLRC protest.
On January 28, Suhaib M. Kasim, another journalist working for state-controlled media, was stabbed at his home in Colombo. The FMM reported that five intruders entered Kasim’s home, dragged him outside, and stabbed him, seriously injuring his abdomen. On January 26, the chairman of Associated Newspapers of Ceylon had “removed” Kasim from his position as associate editor of the state-controlled Tamil daily Thinakaran.
In an interview published on January 27, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksha openly called for media censorship, the judicial enforcement of criminal defamation and the prosecution of two leading media institutions for “critical reportage”. The statement, published in Sunday Lankadeepa, is another alarming reflection of the Sri Lankan Government’s growing and overt disregard for media freedom and the right of journalists to conduct their work freely.
Rajapaksha, who is the brother of Sri Lanka’s President, was reported as saying, “I told the President that we need to exercise press censorship from the beginning. I have been telling him that we need to bring in laws that stipulate harsh punishments for such reporting.”
The IFJ said local, national and regional authorities must initiate immediate and impartial investigations into the attacks against journalists and the media community, and ensure that culprits are brought to justice.
“Continuing attacks and harassment are intended to send a message to the media community and to spread fear,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said. “Media freedom requires respect for the right of differing and critical opinions to be voiced, particularly in times of conflict. Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of any civil democracy, but attacks on journalists are eroding Sri Lanka’s democratic stability.”
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries