“Attacks against Media” in Sri Lanka

Period covered: January 2008 

01. 01st January – Defense correspondent receives death threats

Iqbal Athas, associate editor and defense correspondent of the Sunday Times received number of death at the end of previous month. Unidentified caller told him to stop writing on military matters or face death. Although he lodged complain promptly Police only visited him to get a statement one week later. During the last two years Mr. Athas had received number of threats and followed by motorbike gangs on many occasions.

02. 02nd January – MTV/MBC network station attacked

On the night of 2nd January 2009, five petrol bombs were thrown at the MTV/MBC station at Depanama, Pannipitiya. MTV net work broadcasts three channels – MTV for English audiences, Sirasa for Sinhala audiences, and Shakthi for Tamil audiences. Shakthi is the main television news source that broadcasts to North and East of Sri Lanka. The MTV.MBC network also operates popular FM radio channels in Sinhala and Tamil.

03. 06th January – MTV/MBC network station set on fire

During the early hours of 6th January 2009, an armed gang entered the MTV’s main control room and set fire to it. Attackers numbering 20, held security personnel and staff at gunpoint while attempting to destroy the control room. The attackers got away, leaving an unexploded grenade inside the control room.. Pro Government groups have constantly criticised MTV for being anti-patriotic and against the interests of Sri Lanka.

04. 07th January – Tamil journalist receives death threats

Punithaseelan Piratheepan Tamil language journalists from eastern Sri Lanka complained that he is under death threats for last few months. Another TV correspondent from Batticloa also reported that he is being threatened continuously by telephone.

05.  07th January – Journalist leader threatened

Sanath Balasooriya, president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association received number of telephone calls saying he will be bump off the same way Lasantha was killed. Caller identification was a private number. “A private number” identification ( to cancel the real number)  for mobile phones  are provided in Sri Lanka only after defense ministry approval.

06. 08th January – Editor killed

Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wikramatunge was killed on his way to office, around 10.30 am at Atthidiya, Dehiwala.  In his last editorial he said: “It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me”.

07. 09th January – BBC Sinhala service censored

BBC reports on the killing of Sunday Leader editor were censored by the government of Sri Lanka. The BBC Sandeshaya and BBC Thamilosai reports that included comments from colleagues of the slain editor and the politicians of the government and the opposition were blanked out by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). In the censored segment of the programme, there were quotes from international organisations and the leader of the opposition blaming the government for not being able to prevent attacks on media.

08. 09th January – http://www.lankadissent.com closed

Sinhala and English language website Lankadissent.com voluntarily closed its operations. In its last editorial post it said ” A lesson learnt, that needs no repeats to learn. This “compassionate Sinhala Buddhist land” does not tolerate “dissent”. Those who would not want to learn that living, would have to learn that in death. We who live, would come back when “dissent” comes back as a democratic right, accepted and enjoyed in a modern land of compassion.

09. 09th January – Gov. Spokesperson accuses MTV/MBC & the Sunday Leader

In an interview with weekly Lakbima newspaper Minster Keheliya Rambukwela, spokesperson for national security named both Sunday Leader and MBC net work as media institutions that didn’t heed to government advice on how to report defense related matters.

10. 09th January – Defense secretary level charges against media & journalists

Appearing on live TV discussion on ITN Defence Secretary Rajapaksa said that  Sirasa attack in fact staged the attack to win public sympathy, because the Tamil Tigers, which he said the Sirasa station was supporting, were losing the war. He also warned that he would imprison the official from MTV, the broadcasting group which owns the Sirasa, who gave an interview to the CNN after the attack. He mentioned the female Tamil journalists M. Parameshwari, (who was released without any charges) by name and said she is a Tiger supporter.

11. 09th January – Police stop pasting media freedom posters

Two JVP cadres who were putting up posters against government’s media repression were arrested by Dematagoda Police on the 9th and they were produced in court on 16th. Police has filed the case under clause 120 of the penal code which deals with humiliating the government. Magistrate release both suspects reprimanding the police.

12. 22nd January – Editor assaulted

Chief editor Upali Tennakoon was assaulted, after stopping his car and breaking windscreens by unknown gang who get away on two motor bikes. He was on his way to work and incident took place close to his office around 6.40 am. Mr. Upali Tennakoon immediately inform the police but according to him “Neither of the places I called had taken any effective measures to arrest my attackers. They had not even informed the Veleriya Police about the incident. Nor had they taken any steps to catch the two fleeing motorcyclists.”

13. 22th January – Tamil freelancer arrested

Free lance Tamil journalist Prakash Shakthi Velupillai was arrested at Colombo airport on January 22. State controlled Daily News reported that “A prominent LTTE supporter who was posing as a journalist was arrested at the Bandaranaike International Airport . Addressing the weekly security briefing at the MCNS, Defence Affairs spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said Prakash Shakthi Velupillai who was employed by a prominent news agency housed in Colombo-7. ” Later he was handed over to Terrorist Investigation Division.   Prakash had worked with Ravaya newspaper in 2007 on a tsunami reporting project and had worked as a correspondent for number of Tamil news papers.

14. 23th January – Unknown persons visits journalist’s house

Two unknown persons visited the house of Daily Mirror provincial news editor Kasun Yapa and inquired about him. Kasun Yapa was the treasurer of the Free Media Movement, till 20th January 2009 and has been a media activist for long time.

15. 25th January – Journalist summoned to TID

Adiran, journalist working in Colombo based Tamil daily Veerakesari was summoned to TID to question regarding arrested journalist Prakash Shakthi Velupillai. He was released on the same day after questioning him for three hours.

16. 25th January – Web editor questioned by CID

Sandaruwan Senadeeera, editor http://www.lankaemews,com  was asked to come to Criminal Investigation Department to question him on a news story published in 2008. They questioned him for 3 hours and recorded a statement.. He was questioned in June 2008 on the same issue on the ground that lankaenews has violated the media guide lines issued by MCNS in August 2006. He was questioned again on 2nd February 2009 for hours.

17. 27th January – Tissainayagam case heard

Journalist Tissainayagam case was taken up again at Colombo high court No 4 on 25th 26th and 27th January. Representative from ICJ Harry Shore was present at the court hearings. the case will be taken up again first week of Februray.

18. 30th January – State media targets NGO website

On 30th January state controlled Sinhala daily Dinamina  leveled charges against a website run by a Colombo based local NGO saying it is pro LTTE site. The story appeared the by line of Wijayani Edirisinghe, a journalist covering defense matters. According to the news item “defense intelligence sections has uncovered another website of Tiger terrorists. for security reasons sources refused to name the web site for time being. This website is run by a prominent NGO. Numbers of   prominent journalists form south are contributing this web site.”

19.  30th January – TID questions FMM secretary

Three officers from Terrorist Investigation Division visited the Free Media Movement office in Colombo on 29th January and questioned few FMM members including it its secretary for three hours. TID officers’ main focus was former journalist Prakash Shakthi Velupillai, who was arrested at Colombo international air port on 22nd January.  Prakash has worked as a journalist in eastern district of Batticloa some years ago. Since then he is being held in TID detention centre, Colombo Fort.

20. 30th January – Activists charged for participation in a demo

Chamil Jayaneththi, a leader of the New Left Front has been charged by police for his participation in the media protest that took place on 9th January 2009 in front of Lake House, Colombo.The protest was organisned by a broad coalition of media organizations, TUs, women’s organizations and political parties to protest the killing of the Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wikrematunge.  He has been charged by the Slave Island police for obstructing duties and breach of peace, law and order.  Police filed a case at the Magistrate Court and Chamil has been served notice to appear in Courts on 02nd Monday.

21. 30th January – 11 journalists/media activists leave the country

At least 11th senior journalists have left Sri Lanka after the killing of Sunday leader Editor Lasantha Wikramatunga on 8th January 2009. 08 of them presently have taken refuge in India. Self censorship has become the norm reporting conflict related issues.

Other news:

1.       09th January – Protest against Lasantha killing was held in Colombo, organized by broad coalition

2.       11th January – Protest  on Lasantha killing was held in London

3.       19th January – Public rally for media freedom was held in Nugegoda, Colombo organized four organization, including JVP front orgsaniastions

4.       20th January – FMM elects new office bearers in an special general meeting on 20th January

5.       20th January – Broad coalition to campaign for democratic rights was established, P. Saravanamuttu (CPA) Nimalaka Fernando ( Imader) C.J Weliamuna (Ti -SL) selected as co-conveners.

6.       26th January – Protest by 5 Media collective was held in Colombo against the assault on Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon. 

7.       28th January – Tamil Nadu journalists protests against media suppression in Sri Lanka at press club, Chennai

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