IFJ Fears For Missing Journalist, Urges End to Harassment in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) fully support

the call made by the five principal organisations of journalists in Sri Lanka

urging government authorities to end immediately the harassment of media

personnel, which reached alarming levels on and just before January 26, the day

of the country’s presidential election.

 

The Sri

Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), the Federation of Media

Employees’ Trade Unions (FMETU), the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) and

the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) – together known as the SL5 – issued a

joint statement recording how the election was marked by an unprecedented

degree of abuse of the state-owned media in the cause of the incumbent

president, Mahinda Rajapakse.

 

The IFJ is deeply

concerned for the safety of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who has been

missing since the evening of January 24. His wife registered a complaint with police

but they claim a lack of resources to investigate due to the responsibilities

imposed by the election.

 

“The IFJ calls

on power-holders in Sri

Lanka to step up all efforts to trace Prageeth

Eknaligoda, to rescind bans on numerous news portals and to submit to independent

scrutiny of the conduct of state media during the election campaign,” IFJ

General Secretary Aidan White said.

 

The offices

of news portal Lanka E News, for which Eknaligoda used to work, were surrounded by security

officials for about two hours on Thursday night. About 10 officers padlocked

the gates at the entrance to the office before leaving, effectively locking in staff.

It is reported that the police and the army deny sending officers to the

location.

 

National

telecom authorities had blocked Lanka E News on January 26, just as polling

began. Complaints from staff to the Commissioner for Elections resulted in the

site becoming available briefly to internet users in Sri Lanka. But the ban was

reimposed soon after polling concluded.

 

Meanwhile, senior

management of state broadcaster the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC)

used physical violence and verbal threats against staffers who objected to the agency’s

partisan coverage during the election campaign.

 

Reports from

the SL5 indicate that the corporation chairman and other managers assaulted and

threatened senior staffers who insisted on following the directives of the

Commissioner for Elections on providing equal and balanced coverage to all

presidential candidates.

 

“Efforts to

obstruct free reporting suggest that the political mood is becoming more

uncompromising on the part of the authorities, despite the comfortable margin

of victory registered by Mahinda Rajapakse,” White said.

 

“Only an

explicit acknowledgment, in words and deed, of the importance of a free and

autonomous media will serve to remedy some of the deep divisions in Sri Lanka.”

 

For

further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries