For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Reporters Without Borders has written an open letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa urging him to take whatever measures are necessary to protect Frederica Jansz, the editor of The Sunday Leader, and to ensure that those responsible for last week’s death threats against her are arrested.
The threatening letter Jansz received on 27 October was prompted by her 2009 interview with Gen. Sarath Fonseka, a former army commander and presidential candidate in 2010, in which Fonseka accused defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of ordering soldiers to kill Tamil Tiger rebels who wanted to surrender. This is not the first time Jansz has been threatened.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Colombo 3, Sri Lanka
31 October 2011
Dear President Rajapaksa,
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that defends freedom of information, would like to share with you its concern about the threats received last week by Frederica Jansz, the editor of The Sunday Leader.
On 27 October, Ms. Jansz received an anonymous hand-written letter claiming to come from the “Sinha regiment.” It criticized her for her involvement in the “White Flag” trial, in which a verdict is due on 18 November. Ms. Jansz is regarded as a key witness in this trial because of the front page story she wrote for the newspaper on 13 December 2009. It was an interview with former army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka, in which he told Ms. Jansz that Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had given the order to kill three members of the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) who wanted to surrender. Many officers saw this statement as a betrayal. Gen. Fonseka, who subsequently said his comments were taken out of context, is being tried for making false statements.
The Sinha regiment that seems to be threatening Ms. Jansz used to be commanded by Gen. Fonseka when he was a senior army officer. The regiment is accusing her of providing the judicial system with false evidence.
This is not the first time that Ms. Jansz has been target of such threats. The first threats were received shortly after she had provided the evidence. The Sunday Leader’s journalists are often the targets of all sorts of intimidation. We remind you of the January 2009 murder of the newspaper’s then editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga, which was never properly investigated.
Ms. Jansz filed a complaint with the police after receiving this letter. So far, she has received no protection. As a verdict will soon be issued, we are extremely concerned for Ms. Jansz’s safety during the days and weeks to come.
Although more than two years have gone by since the army’s victory over the Tamil Tigers, media freedom and pluralism have not improved in Sri Lanka, as The Sunday Leader’s precarious situation shows. The chairman of the TNL media group, Shan Wickremesinghe, and its general manager, Sudath Jayasundara, have also received death threats from individuals with close connections to your government. We are worried about the safety of Sri Lankan journalists, who are working in an increasingly fraught environment and are caught between the different forces – political and non-political – operating in your country.
We therefore urge you to give orders for these threats to be properly investigated and to take whatever measures are necessary to ensure that they stop. The Sri Lanka authorities should also be ready to provide proper protection to Ms. Jansz or any other journalist if they desire it.
I thank you for the attention you give to this letter.
Reporters Without Borders secretary-general