For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
NfR – Net working for rights in Sri Lanka
Press release/ 03 August 2011
Already battered Freedom of expression and media rights took yet another ugly turn last month in Sri Lanka. A leading news paper owner was threatened by the President, the news editor of the largest circulating Tamil daily in Jaffna was assaulted and critically injured by the military backed para military gang and two correspondents of popular TV news channel was harassed by supports of a notoriously anti media Minister.
The attacks on journalists and threats continue in Sri Lanka violating the people’s fundamental right to freedom of information. Despite condemnation by international media rights organizations and human rights organizations, the current regime has been systematically targeting independent journalism and willing to deploy gangs and para military groups to intimidate, harass assault and kill.
According to Sunday Leader, on 19 July 2011 President Mahinda Rajapaksha had called the chairman of The Sunday Leader, Lal Wickrematunge and yelled at him. The president threatened the chairman by saying, “You are writing lies, outrageous lies! You can attack me politically, but if you attack me personally, I will know how to attack you personally too.”
The reason for the threatening phone call was an exposure by the Sunday Leader that China had given the president and his son, parliamentarian Namal Rajapaksha, US dollars 9 million to be used “at their discretion” . Within days after the threatening telephone call, posters appeared around the newspaper office with slogans, “Do not lie!” and “The gods will punish you”
The presidential office has not denied the story or the threatening phone call even two weeks after it was reported in the media. The newspaper says it stands by the story.
Reliable sources told NfR that the President had even mentioned the killing of the founding editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge in a threatening voice when he called Mr. Lal Wickrematunge. Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was killed on 08 January 2009 and GOSL has not yet arrested the culprits.
On 6 July 2011, Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, the news editor of the leading Tamil newspaper in Jaffna, the Uthayan was attacked with iron rods by a motorcycle riding gang. He was admitted to intensive care unit of the Jaffna general hospital in critical condition. The Uthayan Tamil daily newspaper has been an important independent news source for the past several decades in the Northern Province. The paper survived several attacks and various kinds of intimidation by the government of Sri Lanka and Tamil militant groups during the civil war and the aftermath.
Two correspondents of the popular TV channel Sirasa (MTV network) was attacked in Kiribathgoda on 24 July. Although they have complained to the Kiribathgoda police no action has been taken to at least to recover their cassettes by the police.
All three media organisations, the Leader publications, the Uthayan publications and MTV network have faced repeated assaults, threats and intimidations in recent times. All three institutions have been set on fire. The Sunday Leader lost its editor while Uthayan news paper lost six of its staff members including journalists. Both institutions were closed using emergency powers. Sirasa /MTV network has been the most threatened and intimidated media institution in Sri Lanka. In this context NfR is of the opinion that threats and intimidations against these institutions are prelude to suppress all kinds of dissenting voices.
NfR is deeply dismayed by the latest attacks, assaults and intimidation and calls for continuous campaign by the international community to make the GOSL accountable.
Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka
Steering committee: Kshama Ranawana ( Canada) Lionel Bopage ( Australia), Nadarasa Sarawanan (Norway), Nadarajah Kuruparan(UK) Padmi Liyanage (Germany), Raveendran Pradeepan (France), Rudhramoorthy Cheran (Canada), Saman Wagaarachchi ( USA), Sunanda Deshapriya ( Switzerland)