For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
By Bob Dietz/Asia Program Coordinator
In Sri Lanka, there is a lull of sorts in outright attacks on the media as the Rajapaksa government takes stock of where it stands, which is in a very strong position: Last May the government declared a final victory in the brutal 30-year conflict with Tamil secessionists. In January, President Mahinda Rajapksa won a convincing victory in the presidential elections, and in April, his United Peoples Freedom Alliance took 144 seats of the 225 member seats in parliamentary elections, with a chance to build a political coalition that will give him the two-thirds majority he needs to begin rewriting the constitution.
The country’s media remain as partisan as ever, though some outlets have accepted that the Rajapaksa family has won, and have started to trim their anti-government stance. Others remain adamant in their opposition.
There was recently an indicator of what might come next for the media. The president appointed former Labor Minister Mervyn Silva to be his deputy minister of media and information. Silva’s appointment was confirmed by parliament on April 23.
We’ve before about Silva, and it wasn’t very encouraging. In March 2008, we complained in a letter to the president about an incident in which state television employees reported a spate of attacks that began after many were involved in a much-publicized on-air dispute in December 2007 with then-Labor Minister Silva. He had shown up at the station with a group of men to complain that the station hadn’t covered one of his speeches. Five staff members reported being stabbed, beaten, or slashed with razor blades by unidentified men, according to The Associated Press.
And an update on another case: The wife of a missing journalist took matters into her own hands on April 22, and hand-delivered letters to all the new members arriving in parliament. Sandhya Eknaligoda wanted them to take action on her husband Prageeth’s disappearance. Police tried to stop her, but she managed to get her letters into the MPs’ hands. There is still no explanation for what has happened to her husband, a columnist and cartoonist for Lanka e News. Eknaligoda has been missing since January 24.