Sri Lanka: Journalists commemorate Black January

Sri Lankan media collectives have called on the nation’s government to take sincere action to end impunity for crimes against journalists, in an annual ‘Black January’ commemoration on January 28. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses solidarity with its Sri Lankan affiliates, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), and urges the Sri Lankan government to investigate the numerous killings and disappearances of media workers.

Journalists display protest boards in front of the Jaffna Main Bus Stand to commemorate the Black January. Credit: SLWJA

A collective of Sri Lankan media and press freedom organisations conducted a protest in front of Fort Railway Station in Colombo on the 28th January, 2022, distributing leaflets and seeking public solidarity.
“All the murdered journalists in Sri Lanka were assassinated for the sole reason that they were trying to uncover the truth and defend Sri Lanka's democracy. But so far no one has been able to bring justice to the families of any of these murdered journalists” their joint statement reads.
In Batticaloa, a candlelight vigil was held and in Jaffna, Colombo, journalists raised black flags as part of the annual ‘Black January Commemoration’ on January 31.
The groups sought accountability for the Sri Lankan government’s failure to investigate past crimes against journalists and media organisations.
IFJ affiliates, FMM, FMETU and SLWJA, conducted online discussions, a protest program and information campaigns across the month of January, under the theme, ‘Ensure justice to journalists who murdered, forcibly disappeared, assaulted and threatened’.
Media freedom organisations have commemorated ‘Black January’ for many years, to mark the intimidation, murder and enforced disappearance of journalists in Sri Lanka, particularly during the month of January.
On January 6, 2009, Sirasa studio complex was set ablaze and, only two days later on January 8, Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed, 2009. On January 24, 2006, Subramanium Ramachandran, a Jaffna based Tamil journalist was murdered and on January 24, 2010, journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared.

Current Sri Lankan president, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was then defense minister,  was believed to have lead a unit accused of assassinating Wickrematunge in 2009. Gotabaya has denied all charges.
Upali Thennakoon, editor of Sinhalese language newspaper Rivira, and Lal Hemantha Mawalage, news producer at state-run television station Rupavahini, were attacked on January 30, 2011, and January 23, 2008, respectively.
The IFJ said: The Sri Lankan government has let impunity run rife, with Black January marking a grave number of journalist killings, enforced disappearances, attacks and media closures. The IFJ stands in solidarity with journalists and media workers in Sri Lanka and calls on the Sri Lankan government to immediately investigate both current and historical crimes against journalists to bring the perpetrators to justice.”







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