For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Threats Against Exiled Journalist’s Family in Sri Lanka Must Cease
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is outraged at continuing threats against the wife of journalist Gamini Pushpakumara, in exile from Sri Lanka since April after being dismissed as a producer with the state-owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) in January.
“The IFJ calls on the Sri Lankan authorities to identify those responsible for threats against Pushpakumara’s wife, Waruni Balasooriya, and to guarantee her safety,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.
In July, the IFJ noted earlier threats made to the life of Balasooriya, who remains in Sri Lanka. Balasooriya lodged a complaint at a local police station, but by all accounts it was not acted upon.
Balasooriya has since shifted house for her own safety. However, on the evening of September 2 she had two unidentified visitors who spoke menacingly and vowed to find and kill Pushpakumara.
The two reportedly referred to Pushpakumara as a “traitor” and a “Sinhala Tiger” – in reference to the Tamil Tigers who were defeated in 2009 after a long civil war. He was accused of sending video footage and photographs of the last phases of the war to overseas media organisations with intent to entangle the Government of Sri Lanka in war crimes trials.
The threatening visitors accused Pushpakumara of acting in concert with General Sarath Fonseka, who was commander of the Sri Lankan army in the last phase of the war and challenged President Mahinda Rajapakse in presidential elections in January. Fonseka was arrested shortly after he lost the election in a polarised national vote, and recently stripped of his rank, pension and all benefits by a military court which found him guilty of conduct unbecoming.
Pushpakumara’s dismissal followed his leadership of a movement of SLRC staff demanding that prescribed norms on fair coverage for all candidates be followed by the state broadcaster, which was accused of tilting strongly toward the incumbent president.
The IFJ learns that Balasooriya has again complained to her local police station about the latest threats to her life, and encountered an uncooperative attitude from officials.
“The safety of Pushpakumara’s wife is a key indicator of the commitment of President Rajapakse’s regime, now invested with a fresh mandate, to restore the civil liberties that were seriously eroded during the civil war,” White said.
“Pushpakumara’s actions as a leader of the program producers’ association in SLRC were in line with prescribed norms of fairness in election coverage. Threats implying he was involved in the discovery of visual evidence of atrocities by Sri Lankan armed forces is consistent with a pattern of victimisation that began as retribution for his stand on a matter of professional ethics.”