”This is a concern for us, but our greater worry is the failure of the GoSL to bring to account those responsible for the murder of a number of journalists, as also brutal attacks with murderous intent that have left a number of journalists seriously disabled.”
H.E. Ambassador Ms. Tamara Kunanayakam,
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka,
23 November 2011.
On November 23, journalists and media workers all over the world will unite in observance of a day of action against impunity. This is a day when we at the NFR Sri Lanka, Network for Media Freedom and Human Rights in Sri Lanka in alliance with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the South Asia Media Solidarity Network (SAMSN) — seek to remind governments around the world of a sad and deeply disturbing record of default in bringing to account individuals, state agencies and non-state actors who have over the last many years, made journalism and the dissemination of information for the wider public good, a deeply hazardous pursuit.
We are joined by a global coalition of journalists organisations and advocacy bodies working for media freedom in this day of action.
As we write these lines, we are distressed to learn of an arbitrary rule introduced by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) on the need for registration by websites that publish any content on Sri Lanka, and the blocking of a number of news portals on the basis of this rule.
This is a concern for us, but our greater worry is the failure of the GoSL to bring to account those responsible for the murder of a number of journalists, as also brutal attacks with murderous intent that have left a number of journalists seriously disabled.
The most recent such incident that we were deeply shocked by, was the near lethal attack on Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, news editor of the Tamil daily Uthayan, in the northern city of Jaffna on July 29.
Just two months earlier, S. Kavitharan, a reporter with Uthayan, was attacked in Jaffna city in a similar manner while on his way to work. No investigations have since been conducted.
We believe that these attacks are part of a broader assault on voices that seek to speak up for the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. We need hardly remind you of the murder in January 2006, of S.S. Sukirtharajan, a reporter for Uthayan in Trincomalee in the eastern province, in evident retribution for his role in exposing the execution-style killing of five Tamil students by Sri Lankan armed forces.
We reaffirm our deep concern at the faltering process of investigations into the January 2009 murder of Lasantha Wickrametunge, a journalist who was greatly respected for his integrity and commitment. The June 2009 attack on the investigative journalist and union leader Poddala Jayantha, carried out in broad daylight, not far from the administrative centre of Colombo city, has left him with disabilities that could prove permanent. We are deeply distressed that this crime remains unpunished.
The failure to trace Prageeth Eknaligoda, a cartoonist and columnist with Lanka-e-News who disappeared in January 2010 while on his way home, continues to cause us great worry. We are worried by the attitude recently displayed by as important a functionary as the senior legal adviser to the Sri Lankan cabinet, Mr Mohan Pieris, who remarked after a presentation at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, that Eknaligoda may have taken refuge in a foreign country and that the campaign about his disappearance is a deliberate effort to discredit the Sri Lankan government.
We regard this continuing record of violence against our profession as unacceptable and believe that the casual attitude that the GoSL has adopted towards bringing particular offenders to account, has contributed to it.
On behalf of our partners and affiliates in Sri Lanka, as also the wider region and the global community of journalists, we ask for evidence of concrete action that the authorities in your country intend to take up these criminal acts of violence against journalists and media workers with the seriousness of purpose that is required.
We respectfully ask you to transmit this letter to your Government and advise those responsible of our deepest concern.
We remain as always, eager for a discussion with you and your staff on these issues and on means that we could evolve towards addressing them.
With best regards,
Networking For Rights in Sri Lanka