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IPI Calls Impunity a ‘Dark Stain’ on Sri Lankan Government
19 January 2009
The International Press Institute joined other leading media rights organisations today in condemning a "culture of impunity and indifference" over attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka.
Since the beginning of the year, the killing of a senior editor and the attack on the facilities of a popular independent TV channel have led to a paralysis of the media. In the wake of these events, an extreme sense of anxiety has gripped the journalists’ community about their basic safety and working conditions.
Launching a new report, "Media Under Fire: Press Freedom Lockdown in Sri Lanka," the International Press Freedom Mission criticised the government over its inaction and failure to take the attacks and killings of reporters seriously. This has in turn led to an almost total blackout of independent and objective reporting from the north and east of Sri Lanka, which have seen the worst of the country’s long-running civil war.
"The government must understand that impunity arising from the murder of journalists is not a badge of honour for Sri Lanka," IPI Director David Dadge said. "It is a dark stain that has come to define the country in the eyes of the international community. The government must act or it risks being irrevocably tarnished by these events."
IPI has pushed for action by highlighting in its Justice Denied Campaign the case of Subramaniyam Sukirtharajan, a journalist shot dead in the eastern city of Trincomalee by assailants on a motorcycle on 24 January 2006. "That campaign, which personalizes the problems of impunity and journalist imprisonment by focussing on ten individual cases worldwide, aims to aid journalists and their families in their often frustrating search for justice," Dadge said. "We hope this report adds momentum to that effort."
The International Mission noted that there are few serious investigations of attacks on journalists by the authorities and none of the killers are ever brought to trial. "A hostile environment of intolerance by the top political leadership has created a culture of impunity and indifference making every day hunting season for attacks on media staff," the International Mission said in releasing the report.
Based on its visit to Sri Lanka in October 2008, the International Mission noted three trends relating to the coverage of the conflict: lack of press access and independent information flow in the conflict zones; a wave of assaults and intimidation of journalists covering the conflict; and self-censorship by the media on the realities of the war.
The situation for media has continued to deteriorate in Sri Lanka. On 6 January this year the studio of the Maharaja Television/Broadcasting Network (MTV/MBC) was attacked by armed gunmen. On 8 January, Lasantha Wickrematunga, editor of the Sunday Leader, was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle as he drove to work in Colombo.
Before the gunning down of Wickrematunga, 14 journalists had been killed in Sri Lanka since 2004, according to IPI’s "Death Watch."
According to the report findings, reporters and editors conveying messages that are critical of the government’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) are labeled as "traitors" and "terrorists."
On 15 January, police began a widespread search for MTV Channel 1 Chief Chevan Daniel. The police search started directly after a live broadcast on state-run TV by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who had accused Chevan of being an LTTE supporter.
Gotabhaya said that he was "not pleased with how several media institutions acted when the security forces achieved victories." The defence secretary’s statements came at the same time as his brother, President Mahinda Rajapakse, gave assurances to media owners that no journalist or media institution would be threatened or attacked by the government.
The International Mission also was shocked at the repeated instances of elected representatives and government ministers using violent and inflammatory language against the media.
The International Mission is calling on the government to accept the creation of an international commission and independent investigation into the two recent attacks in line with requests by Sri Lankan journalists and media institutions. As a group, the International Mission will offer its assistance to form this commission and to participate in the investigation.
Since 2006, the International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka has conducted three missions to Sri Lanka. The most recent mission in October 2008 included representatives from IPI, International Federation of Journalists, International Media Support, International News Safety Institute, and Reporters Without Borders.
Dnyanesh V. Jathar, Mumbai bureau chief of the Week and a member of IPI’s Indian National Committee, represented IPI on this latest mission.
For more information, contact:
Read Country Reports on 'Sri Lanka':
2008 World Press Freedom Review
2007 World Press Freedom Review
2006 World Press Freedom Review
2005 World Press Freedom Review
2004 World Press Freedom Review
2003 World Press Freedom Review
2002 World Press Freedom Review
2001 World Press Freedom Review
2000 World Press Freedom Review
1999 World Press Freedom Review
1998 World Press Freedom Review
'Sri Lanka' is on the IPI Watch List!
Journalists killed in 'Sri Lanka':
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