For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Media Release: Sri Lanka
August 2, 2010
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is outraged at an arson attack on the Siyatha TV station and radio broadcast facilities of the Voice of Asia Network in Sri Lanka during the early hours of July 30.
According to information from IFJ affiliates, the broadcaster’s offices in central Colombo were attacked by a group of 12 to 15 men. They held two journalists at gunpoint and reportedly made staff kneel, before flinging petrol bombs into the facility’s control room. Two journalists were injured and the control room was gutted.
Commentators and observers allege that the attack, which occurred close to the main hub of the Sri Lankan Government and its principal security wings, could not have occurred without the tacit approval of state agencies.
“President Mahinda Rajapakse and his government must reverse their failure to prevent attacks on the media and act now to investigate a string of incidents, including the attack on Siyatha TV, the worrying disappearance Prageeth Eknaligoda in January, prior physical threats against others, and the forced exile of a number of Sri Lanka’s journalists,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.
The Siyatha TV and radio stations are owned by a businessman who backed former Sri Lankan army commander Sarath Fonseka in the presidential contest in January against incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse. Following Rajapakse’s victory, the owner left the country with his immediate family, reportedly on account of threats to his safety.
“The IFJ is shocked and outraged at this attack, which is consistent with the unenviable record acquired by Sri Lanka through the last few years of its bitter civil war, as one of the most dangerous places in which to work in the media,” White said.
“We expected though that with the end of the civil war, there would be credible moves to effect a national process of reconciliation and fix accountability for past crimes against journalism.”
IFJ sources report that the Siyatha group also ran a Sinhala language newspaper, Siyatha, which shut down a month ago due to political and economic pressure. A leading journalist from the newspaper has subsequently sought refuge abroad rather than risk attack and possible prosecution.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919