‘War Without Reporters’ and ‘War On Reporters’ alike

By Lee Yu Kyung penseur21@hotmail.com

Sri Lanka is the country, where reporters have been completely blocked from the war zone in North and East of the Island since the 5 years-old cease fire (fr.2002 Feb to 2007. Jan) was broken by the ultra-conservative regime in Colombo to resume the war against Tamil Tigers or LTTE. The blockade has discouraged many journalists, including myself, from trying to cover what’s going on in the zone, where mainly Tamil populations reside along with far less number of Muslims and Singhaleses. Each time, whenever I’ve repeatedly delayed my plan for the Island, I feel sorry, to be honest, for those terrified by this ‘unheard of war’. I swear they must have craved ‘outsiders’ to listen to them, to witness what’s happening to them and to transmit the ground facts throughout the world. 

In terms of media outputs, the case of Sri Lankan conflict be worse than the case of Gaza in Palestine. Since the war resumed a year ago, ‘words’ from the North and East hardly came out except the ones from the government or the Army, or from Tamilnet.com, which is always tagged ‘pro-LTTE (the rebel) website’. i.e. ‘biased’.  Thus, blockade of media has ‘forced’ many to click the ‘biased-website’ to seek information. While the government forces have recently claimed that Killinochi, the de facto rebel’s capital, has fallen to them, the “pro-LTTE website” has continued to file the story about great level of violence and assaults on civilians by the government forces at large. 

What is worse of this conflict is that the ‘War Without Reporters’ has created circumstances, in which ‘War On Reporters’ has remained unabated.             

On Jan. 8th, another toll was added to the War On Reporters. Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wikramatunga assassinated by the ‘unknown’ (as always) gunmen broad daylight. This took place only two days after the independent TV station (MTV/MBC) network was attacked by ‘unknown’ goons. Sunday Leader is recognized by many for its investigative articles, among which was, to my memory, the decisive disclosure of ‘Karuna Camp’ on March 20th 2005 issue.  

Karuna Faction was the breakaway from LTTE. Lots of speculations as to ‘where the Faction was headquarted’ and ‘whether they were supported by the government’ (which was always denied by the government at that time) were widened,  highly controversial and very sensitive at that time, as it is a serious violation of the 2002 cease fire agreement.*

But the Sunday Leader’s report, in which Karuna Faction was reportedly located in the government controlled-area, has indicated that government might have armed and sheltered the Faction.

Almost 4 years passed since the report. Now, the infamous commander for his children recruits, Karuna has become a Member of Parliament. He was appointed by the Rajapakse’s ruling alliance, United People’s Freedom Alliance last Oct 2008. 

Absurdly, Mr. PRESIDENT Mahinda Rajapakse called the slain journalist, Lasantha Wikramatunga, as a ‘terrorist journalist’ in an interview with Reporters Without Border last October, the same month to when Karuna became a MP. **  

Could we get any breaking news that culprit against the ‘terrorist journalist’, who was vocal critic of the corruptive regime and advocate political solution of the conflict, is to be brought to the justice?   

War Without Reporters and War On Reporters alike.  

in Bangkok (Jan.11 2009)



* Article 1-8 of the ceasefire agreement between the Government of Srilanka and LTTE in 2002;

“Tamil paramilitary groups shall be disarmed by the GOSA by D-day + 30 at the latest.(“D-day” is the date the Agreement shall enter into force)  The GOSL shall offer to integrate individuals in these units under the command and disciplinary structure of the GOSL armed forces for service away from the Northern and Eastern Province”


** Statement of Reporters Without Borders

Sri Lanka 8 January 2009

Outrage at fatal shooting of newspaper editor in Colombo

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, who was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle as he drove to work this morning in Colombo.

“Sri Lanka has lost one of its more talented, courageous and iconoclastic journalists,” Reporters Without Borders said. “President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press. Sri Lanka’s image is badly sullied by this murder, which is an absolute scandal and must not go unpunished.”

The press freedom organisation added: “The military victories in the north against the Tamil Tigers rebels must not be seen as a green light for death squads to sow terror among government critics, including outspoken journalists. The international community must do everything possible to halt such a political vendetta.”

President Rajapaksa called Wickrematunga a “terrorist journalist” during an interview with a Reporters Without Borders representative in Colombo, last October.

This morning’s attack on Wickrematunga occurred in rush-hour traffic about 100 metres from an air force checkpoint near one of the capital’s airports. The two assailants smashed the window of his car with a steel bar before shooting him at close range in the head, chest and stomach. He was rushed to a Colombo hospital where he died a few hours later.

The Sunday Leader’s outspoken style and coverage of shady business deals meant that Wickrematunga was often the target of intimidation attempts and libel suits. The most recent lawsuit was brought by the president’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who got a court to ban the newspaper from mentioning him for several weeks.

Lasantha Wickrematunga, who was also a lawyer, told Reporters Without Borders in an interview that his aim as a journalist was to “denounce the greed and lies of the powerful.” His newspaper specialised in sensational investigative reporting of corruption and abuse of authority in Sri Lanka.

The printing press of the Sunday Leader media group (Leader Publications), which is located in a high security area near Colombo, was destroyed in an arson attack by a group of gunmen in November 2007. Wickrematunga told Reporters Without Borders at the time the attack was “a commando operation supported by the government.” The police did not carry out a proper investigation.

Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2008 press freedom index. This was the lowest ranking of any democratic country. Two journalists were killed in Sri Lanka in 2008 and two others, J. S. Tissanayagam and Vettivel Jasikaran, are currently in prison.

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