For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Senior journalists of The Sunday Leader newspaper were assaulted during the coverage of the Black Protest in support of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka last Monday (11).
Fonseka supporters, who were present at the hearing of the “white flag” case, were present at the ‘Black Protest’ march and rally organised by the People’s Movement for Democracy on October 11.
During the rally outside the Welikada Prison that followed the protest march from Hyde Park to Borella, two individuals, a man and a woman, turned abusive towards The Sunday Leader, its management and staff.
The two persons (whose photographs have been published in this page), who were standing behind The Sunday Leader journalists started to make inflammatory comments about the newspaper when political leaders commenced their speeches demanding Fonseka’s release from prison.
The man said in a loud voice that Fonseka was behind bars because of The Sunday Leader and that the newspaper office should be burnt. “It was burnt once, but now it has to be done properly,” he said.
The woman next to him also joining in said that the newspaper office should be attacked.
The man continued to say that ‘The Leader Company’s senior management and the Editor should be taught a lesson.’
“One was killed, now the others must be killed,” the man said. He added that before people try to break down the prison gates to free Fonseka, they should first burn down The Sunday Leader.
The Sunday Leader journalists then turned towards the two persons, at which point they directly said, “Yes, The Sunday Leader needs to be taught a good lesson and ask Frederica Jansz to be careful, she is talking too much.”
Fonseka’s wife, Anoma Fonseka, commenced her speech and The Sunday Leader journalists remained silent to prevent any scene during her speech. Soon after he speech ended, Deputy Editor of The Sunday Leader, Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema turned towards the two individuals.
The man asked, “What is your problem?”
“I have no problem, it is you who seem to be having a problem. What is it?” the journalist asked.
The man then turned hostile and manhandled Abeywickrema while saying he didn’t want to talk to her. He pulled the journalist’s sleeve and pushed her.
At this juncture, a JVP member in-charge of security intervened and pushed the man away while apologising to The Sunday Leader journalist. The Sunday Leader photographer Thusitha Kumara immediately took photographs of the man and the woman who were abusive towards The Sunday Leader and its staff.
After the two individuals were pushed away, Abeywickrema brought the incident to the notice of one of the organisers of the event, DNA MP Tiran Alles.
Alles after looking at the two persons said he was unaware who they were but said that he was under the impression that the woman was a UNP member from the Kaduwela area. She was most often seen in Sirikotha, he said.
However, The Sunday Leader journalists insisted that regardless of their party affiliations, they were abusive towards them and such comments could have been aimed at instigating others to harm the institution and its staff.
The organisers managed to move the two individuals away from the media until the end of the rally.
Meanwhile, Nava Sihala Urumaya Leader Sarath Manamendra after hearing about the incident said the man who had verbally abused and tried to manhandle The Sunday Leader journalist was a member of his party.
He apologised to The Sunday Leader journalists and said he would ‘speak’ to his party member.
The Sunday Leader journalists then pointed out that a party member’s comments reflected the attitude of the party leadership.
Other members of the DNA approached The Sunday Leader journalists and apologised for the unpleasant incident and requested them to put the matter to rest. The journalists however pointed out that such an incident could recur at a future protest if the political leaders did not take necessary steps to educate their supporters of the real situation with regard to Fonseka.
Some leaders said that The Sunday Leader has faced many challenges and is still doing so unlike any other media institution in the country.
The fact that Fonseka supporters were unaware of the fact that he was imprisoned not because of The Sunday Leader, but because of the verdicts of two courts martial appointed by the President is a reflection on the party leaders’ failure to educate their members on the current political situation.