For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins partners and affiliates, the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) in strongly condemning the armed home invasion inflicted on a journalist couple in Colombo just before dawn on August 24.
FMM and SLWJA report that a group of masked men, armed with knives and what seemed to be hand grenades, forced their way into the home of Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema and Romesh Abeywickrema. The men ransacked the house, took away valuable items including jewelry and, curiously, closely examined files and documents belonging to the couple.
Mandana is associate editor of the Sunday Leader, and her husband Romesh is business editor of the same newspaper.
After being tipped off by the couple, police reportedly challenged the intruders as were leaving the home, shooting one intruder dead and capturing another two.
Police have described the incident as armed robbery, but FMM convenor Sunil Jayasekara has suggested the interest shown by the intruders in the couple’s documents, indicated another motive.
A few days before the armed intrusion the tyres of the Abeywickrema family vehicle were slashed and the body of a dead cat dumped on their door step. And just prior to these events, a newspaper known for pro-government sympathies had been attacking Mandana Ismail, describing her as “unpatriotic”.
The IFJ Asia-Pacific said: “We are deeply concerned at these events which bear an eerie resemblance to past incidents of personal vilification against journalists culminating in a physical attack.
“We call upon Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Information to urge restraint among the staff of state-owned media outlets and for them to cease the campaigns of attack and vilification against independent, public-spirited journalists”.
“Further, we call on the police to determine the genuine motives behind the attack and prosecute those responsible,” the IFJ said.