The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed to learn of several recent threats to the security of a defence journalist Iqbal Athas after his exposure of a major arms deal with the Ukrainian Government.
The IFJ views these threats as blatant attempts to silence this respected investigative journalist and discourage reporting on Government affairs
According to IFJ affiliates, including the Free Media Movement (FMM), a demonstration attended by more than 50 protesters and conducted in front of Athas’ Colombo home in Negegoda, was allegedly led by government politicians who accused Athas of abusing freedom of expression and exposing national security issues.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), in a letter to the Sri Lankan President, report that a provincial politician of the ruling Sri Lankan Freedom Party, Upali Kodikara, was identified at the demonstration and is believed to have been involved in organising the protest.
The FMM further reports that the Provincial Editor of Wijeya Newspapers Ltd, who publish The Sunday Times, and Athas were threatened by a person claiming to be a retired Air Force officer who visited the office on August 27.
He warned Mr. W.J. Gunaratne to refrain from re-publishing Sinhala translations of Athas’ report and left a threatening message for Athas stating he should leave the country or face the same fate as murdered Tamil journalists.
These latest threats follow the removal of Athas’ police security after his reporting of alleged corruption in Government defence contracts, which the IFJ warn will only reinforce a culture of censorship and secrecy in Sri Lanka.
"When the Government links the security of journalists to their reporting of Government affairs all journalists must worry about their security", IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
The IFJ has been working with media organisations in Sri Lanka to help create a strong culture of watchdog journalism that can report on corruption and hold authorities to account.
The IFJ says that despite the government insisting the media is free to report, the daily reality for many journalists in Sri Lanka, where six journalists and media workers have been killed in the last year and numerous reports of beatings and detention of journalists have been recorded, is one of fear and self-censorship.
The IFJ joins international and local organisations in their call for the Government to provide security for Athas and supports the joint protest to be conducted by five local media organisations on Thursday August 30.
“There must be an end to all forms of interference and threats to media”, Park said.
“We applaud and support the solidarity and courage of Sri Lankan journalists who refuse to accept this kind of intimidation of media and political”, she said.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 114 countries