For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

A shocking attack

Saturday, 31 July 2010 –

It is with shock and dismay that we note the dastardly attack on the Siyatha TV and Radio stations in the wee hours of yesterday. What is more shocking is the ease with which the attackers carried out their operation and got away in a heavily guarded city teeming with so many checkpoints and military and police personnel. According to eyewitnesses, six unidentified armed persons came in two cars and mounted the attack with no resistance from the unarmed security guards.

The police are reported to have launched an investigation but it is sure to draw a blank in the end, if our experience with police probes into attacks on the media is anything to go by. Whenever goons descend on a media organisation or journalists, the knee-jerk reaction of the police is to deploy several `special teams`, give press conferences and pretend to be busy with investigations until some other issue crops up and distracts the public. Thereafter, the probe is abandoned. That is the name of the game! This we have seen happen on many occasions in the past. The police have, over the years, mastered the art of probing without probing!

It is only natural that the government in power becomes an immediate suspect whenever unidentified gangs attack media organisations with impunity and the police fail to hunt them down. One may argue that the police have also failed to take in some suspects the government politicians are all out to have arrested. All their efforts to arrest Danuna, the son-in-law of Gen. Sarath Fonseka, have come a cropper much to the consternation of the government. Out of desperation, the police even raided a well known temple in search of him but in vain. However, the fact remains that the police must be able to at least investigate and identify the perpetrators of violence against the media and the rivals of the ruling party, let alone arrest them.

Those responsible for the attacks on The Sunday Leader press, the MTV studio, the Sudar Oli office in Colombo and the Uthayan head office in Jaffna have not even been arrested in spite of the much advertised deployment of `special police teams`. The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was roughed up on several occasions and then assassinated in broad daylight but his killers are still at large. Many other attacks on journalists and media houses have gone unprobed, making one wonder whether the perpetrators could have got away so easily without political backing. (On April 28, 2003 around 9.30 pm, five goons stormed the house of an Island journalist and tried to stab him but they had to flee when he resisted and his neighbours rushed in. All of them were arrested within one hour of the incident with their weapons still in their possession and locked up at the Boralesgamuwa police Station. But, the police had to set them free shortly afterwards on orders from on high! The probe was hushed up.)

It is incumbent upon the government to have the attack on Siyatha thoroughly probed and the perpetrators arrested. Else, it will continue to be a suspect in the eyes of the public, and those who are on a human rights witch-hunt against Sri Lanka must be salivating at the prospects of using yesterday`s incident to justify their unspeakable campaign to their sinister ends.

July 2010
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