FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed by threats made against the safety of the family of senior Sri Lankan journalist Gamini Pushpakumara.

“We call upon the Sri Lankan police and security agencies to take immediate measures to investigate the source of the threats and to extend all necessary protection to Pushpakumara’s family,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

Pushpakumara, who is an executive committee member of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and secretary of the program producers’ union of the state-owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), was summarily dismissed from employment at SLRC after presidential elections in Sri Lanka in January.

The dismissal followed Pushpakumara’s active leadership in the union’s demands that the SLRC follow specified norms of fairness in its coverage of the presidential election campaign.

Pushpakumara has since left his home town of Horana, near Colombo, for safety reasons. But his family remains, and on the evening of July 12, had two visitors who spoke in a threatening manner to his wife Waruni Balasooriya.

They alleged that Pushpakumara was a “Sinhala tiger”, a tacit supporter of the Tamil secessionist movement that was defeated in May 2009 after a quarter-century-long civil war.

Ms Balasooriya was also warned not to report the threat to police for fear of violent retribution. The IFJ has learnt that a complaint was nevertheless filed at the Horana police station on July 14.

“As Sri Lanka faces increasing international scrutiny over its human rights record and the newly re-elected president’s intent to pursue a policy of national reconciliation, the safety and well-being of media personnel will be a crucial benchmark against which progress will be assessed,” White said.

“Unfortunately, recent actions by the Sri Lankan authorities indicate that they remain disinclined to take action against the use of coercion and threats of violence that attempt to silence journalists who courageously speak the truth to power.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 125 countries

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