The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on Sri Lanka’s Inspector General of Police, Victor Perera, to investigate cases of harassment of journalists by members of the police and the Civil Defence Committees (CDC) and to prohibit authorities’ interference in the professional duties of journalists.
In a letter to Mr Perera today, the IFJ expressed grave concern about reports from its affiliate, the Free Media Movement (FMM), that several incidents involving attacks on journalists or abuse of the rights of journalists have been instigated by police and CDC members.
The FMM has received reports of four serious incidents involving arrest, abuse or attacks on journalists in the past month. Three occurred on the same day.
On January 23, Aravinda Sri Nissanka, a freelance television journalist, was reportedly arrested by CDC members in Ratmalana, south of Colombo, as he filmed pedestrians crossing the road without using traffic lights. The CDC group reportedly threatened to assault him before taking him to Mount Lavinia police station, where he was verbally abused.
On February 12, Gemnu Amarasinghe, a photojournalist working for Associated Press (AP), was arrested by CDC members while he was covering the re-opening of Isipathana College in Colombo. He was held at Narahenpita police station for several hours and was released only after intervention by media institutions and organisations.
On the same day, eight journalists were held in custody in Galle for two hours for covering an unruly incident in a Southern Provincial Council meeting. Meanwhile, police posted at the entrance of the Government Secretariat in Batticaloa prevented Muslim journalists M.S.M. Noordeen and S.M.M. Mustafa from entering the premises. The police also verbally abused the journalists.
The IFJ recognises the seriousness of the security situation in Sri Lanka and the need for police to protect all civilians from violence and harm. However, these incidents are cause for alarm.
“Security measures of any kind must not impinge on and severely undermine fundamental constitutional rights, including freedom of expression, freedom of movement and any rights that have a bearing on media freedom,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.
“The failure of local authorities to provide adequate protection and to investigate crimes against journalists in Sri Lanka, as well as the disturbing news that they are actively involved in the abuse journalists’ rights, shows that a culture of impunity against journalists is being fostered within and by government institutions.”
The IFJ joins the FMM in firmly requesting the Inspector General of Police to:
1) Advise all police personnel on the rights and duties of media workers and journalists.
2) Alert them to the fact that media accreditation cards exist and are valid identification for all media workers and journalists.
3) Be sensitive to threats made against media workers and journalists at a time of unprecedented censorship and violence directed against them.
4) Advise members of all Civil Defence Committees that they must not impede lawful activities of media workers and journalists.
At a time when Sri Lanka’s journalists face extreme threats, violence and abuse from all sides of the country’s conflict, the IFJ calls on all press freedom organisations to show support by sending similar letters of appeal to:
Inspector General of Police
Tel: +94 011 2421 750
Fax: +94 011 244 61 74
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries