Witch-hunt against scribes

Published : Jul 17, 2009 00:00 IST

A REPORT titled The war against the media is not over in Sri Lankas English weekly Sunday Leader on June 7 argues that in post-war Sri Lanka, the culture of impunity must give way to an inclusive and democratic culture. On June 18, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said at least 11 Sri Lankan journalists had fled the country in 2008, accounting for a quarter of all such cases worldwide last year. It said Sri Lankan reporters and editors faced severe retribution for critical coverage of the military operations against the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka is losing its best journalists to unchecked violence and the resulting conditions of fear and intimidation that are driving writers and editors from their homes.

The Sri Lankan government has not responded to the report. In the past it had said that the reason for journalists leaving the country was economic.

In Sri Lanka, the theatre of one of the worst violence by state and non-state actors since the unsuccessful insurrection by the extreme left-wing Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in 1971, the pen is nowhere near the gun. D.B.S. Jeyaraj, an expert on the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka, in a comprehensive and insightful analysis has proved that the witch-hunt against journalists depicted as enemies of the state continues unabated.

The latest victim in this officially sanctioned unofficial campaign is Poddala Jayantha. A senior journalist at Dinamina, the Sinhala daily run by Lake House, Jayantha is also the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association and a key activist of the Free Media Movement (FMM) in Sri Lanka.

Jayantha was walking out of a pharmacy at about 4.30 p.m. on June 1 when a group of six men bundled him into a white Toyota Ace van and fled. Ironically, at about the same time, a delegation of the journalists association was having discussions with President Mahinda Rajapaksa on the problems faced by the media. There was also concern about the campaign to malign some journalists as being paid agents of the LTTE.

The police informed a magistrate that two senior journalists were key suspects in the case as they had been the first to inform Jayanthas wife of the incident. They were released on a personal bond of Rs.500,000 each and ordered to report to the police every Sunday.

On May 22 last year, Keith Noyahr, Associate Editor and defence columnist of The Nation, was assaulted and abducted by men in civilian clothing and tortured at a secret location.

When threats against journalists increased in the aftermath of the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickretunga, a large number of journalists left the country. Jayantha was one of them. He returned to Sri Lanka only a few weeks ago.

Apparently, a list of names of journalists has been compiled on the basis of information allegedly divulged by Daya Master, the LTTEs political wing member who surrendered to the army in April. The fear is that journalists disliked by the state will be named on this list and punished.

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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