IFJ Denounces Smear Campaign Against Journalists in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of

Journalists (IFJ) strongly denounces an appeal by Sri

Lanka’s Defence spokesman urging journalists in Sri Lanka to

inform authorities about what he described as suspicious activities by fellow journalists.

 

Defence spokesman Keheliya

Rambukwella was reported in local media on January 23 to have called on "journalists and all

those attached to media organisations … to be vigilant about those who enter

the media field”. He asks journalists to report “any person who appears

suspicious".

 

Rambukwella reportedly asked

journalists to help in apprehending cadre of the insurgent Liberation Tigers of

Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who he alleged are “moving about in the guise of

journalists”.

 

“The IFJ deplores efforts by

government members to recruit journalists into a McCarthy-style witch-hunt. The

role of journalists is to report all sides, fairly and accurately, without fear or favour,” IFJ

General Secretary Aidan White said.

 

“The Defence

rhetoric is an attempt to divide journalists at a time when the challenges they

face in terms of professional freedom and physical security are at their most

acute. There is a clear effort under way to stamp

out independent reporting and critical commentary of the Government and its

conduct of the war with the LTTE.”

 

The call for journalists to inform

on one another came as the Defence Ministry reported arresting Prakash Shakthi

Velupillai at Colombo

airport on January 22.

 

The Ministry accused Velupillai of

being an LTTE activist and posing as a journalist. The Ministry claimed he was

about to take a flight to Singapore

and was allegedly carrying forged press credentials. Rambukwella is quoted as saying Velupillai was attached to the IFJ

and its partners in Colombo.

 

The IFJ reports that Velupillai is

not attached to the IFJ or any of its affiliates, although it is believed that

he had worked as a freelance journalist. The IFJ calls on authorities in Sri Lanka to

make public his whereabouts and the conditions in which he is being held. 

 

The climate of fear surrounding Sri Lanka’s media

community has resulted

in several prominent journalists, including the leadership of some of the

main unions and associations, leaving the country in fear for their personal safety.

 

Sources say at least 10 journalists have gone into voluntary exile in

the past week. This is apart from more than a dozen who left over the past year

on account of threats to their lives.

 

The exodus of journalists follows the daylight murder of the

well-respected editor of The Sunday

Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, on January 7 and comes as unknown

assailants attacked the editor of the Sinhala weekly Rivira, Upali

Tennekoon, and his wife with a knife on January 23.

 

“The IFJ is extremely concerned that several of the journalists who have

been forced into exile have been directly threatened by people holding senior

positions in the Government and the Sri Lankan security services,” White said.

 

The IFJ is

also concerned by any attempt to discredit the work of international

organisations which assist to promote human rights in Sri Lanka, including the right of

Sri Lankan citizens to a free media, freedom of expression and freedom of

association.

 

The IFJ urges

Rambukwella to withdraw his insinuations about the IFJ.

 

The IFJ clarifies that in Sri Lanka,

as elsewhere in the world, it operates through local affiliate organisations

that are fully compliant with national law.

 

The three formal affiliates of the

IFJ in Sri Lanka

are the Free Media Movement (FMM),

the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of

Media Employees’ Trade Unions (FMETU). Together with the Sri Lanka Muslim Media

Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA), these

organisations form a strong coalition of journalists’ organisations in Sri Lanka.

 

All these organisations have

contributed richly to keeping media issues in the spotlight all through Sri Lanka’s

25-year civil war, including in the latest phase of hostilities.

 

The IFJ calls on President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defence

Secretary Gotabhaya

Rajapakse and the senior leadership of Sri Lanka’s armed forces to take a strong public

stand to end the persistent intimidation and harassment of journalists in Sri Lanka.

 

“The strongest affirmation from the highest level is required to prevent

lasting damage to the foundations of media freedom in Sri Lanka,” White

said.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in 122 countries