For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Attack on TV/Radio station by armed gang
By Damith Wickremasekara
The Police and the Fire Brigade did not respond on time when Siyatha TV was attacked, its owning company Voice of Asia Network Chairman Roshantha Kariyapperuma said yesterday. He told the Sunday Times he had lodged a strong protest with President Mahinda Rajapaksa about the delay.
Mr. Kariyapperuma said the police and fire brigade arrived 35 minutes after they were informed about the attack on the Siyatha TV and radio station at Lake Road in Colombo 2. “We had to send a vehicle to the fire brigade to find out why it was not coming, despite the fire station being located less than two kilometres away,” he said.
Scenes of destruction (above). Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara and Nilan Maligaspe
Mr. Kariyapperuma said President Rajapaksa who called him on Friday had promised a full probe on the incident in which more than 12 men armed with T56 assault rifles stormed the TV-radio station and set fire to editing equipment and computers.
The chairman estimated the loss at around Rs. 50 million and said they did not have insurance cover.
“We will resume our TV transmissions within two weeks while the radio stations are operating again,” he said.
“We have not been unfairly critical of any party or organisation. Therefore I cannot figure out who was responsible for the attack. But our problem is why the police and fire brigade took time to come,” he said.
Mr. Kariyapperuma is the husband of well-known actress Sangeetha Weeraratne and the brother of former Telecom Regulatory Commission chairman Priyantha Kariyapperuma who quit the TRC after the presidential election following allegations that he had supported Gen. Sarath Fonseka, the defeated candidate.
Meanwhile, the Kompanna Veediya police and detectives from the Colombo Crime Division have been called in to investigate Friday’s arson attack. They were sifting through debris and explosive particles at the scene to find clues.
Private security personnel at the TV station later told police the masked raiders headed for the main news room and set it on fire with petrol and grenades.
Meanwhile, in one of the first international reactions to the attack, the United States said yesterday, “This attack, together with the unsolved disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda and other acts of violence against the press, serves to intimidate journalists and to further imperil media freedom in Sri Lanka. We welcome the announcement of a police investigation since only a credible inquiry will bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Condemnation points at lack of interest in probing attacks on media
As local and international condemnation over the pre-dawn attack on the Siyatha radio and TV stations poured in, Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said two police teams have been deployed to probe the incident. He said he had not received any reports regarding the attack from them.
Former JVP MP Bimal Ratnayaka who was among the politicians to visit the scene of the attack expressed shock that the incident had taken place in close proximity to Temple Trees and that the attackers had escaped.
Policemen at the scene of the crime
“This kind of blatant attack cannot be carried out without political patronage,” he said. The Working Journalists Association of Sri Lanka while condemning the attack said only the government can direct a proper investigation into the incident but due to a lack of interest in conducting thorough probes on such attacks there is suspicion that they are carried out by those linked to the government.
The National Forum of Journalists said this incident proved again an intolerance for those who hold different opinions. It said that the law provides anyone to hold views of their own political affiliations and this cannot be denied via bombs by any individual or group.Those responsible for the attack must be punished soon or the blame for it must be borne by the state, it said.
The Sri Lanka Chapter of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA) too condemned the attack and said that it only confirms the perception of the outside world that despite the valour of the heroic armed forces and agencies of law and order in suppressing insurgencies and rebellions, much of the crimes committed outside insurgent activity, especially attacks on the vital institutions of democracy such as the mass media, go unresolve