Ben Doherty, Delhi
THE Sri Lankan newspaper editor told by a government official she would be killed – but who was denied protection in Australia – has fled Colombo for political asylum in another country.
Frederica Jansz was told by Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the country’s President, that if they were at a function together ”I will tell people this is the editor of the Sunday Leader and 90 per cent there will show that they hate you … they will kill you”. Mr Rajapaksa said he was harassed by the paper and the language he used was in common use.
Jansz was later fired as editor of the Sunday Leader when new pro-government owners bought out the paper. She has said that even after being terminated, she was followed home twice and received threatening phone calls.
The Sunday Leader has a history of confrontation with those in power in Sri Lanka, on both sides of politics. Supporters say it is a lone independent voice in Sri Lanka’s media, while critics argue it is biased and carries a personal enmity for President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his family.
The paper has had its presses firebombed twice and Jansz’s predecessor as editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was assassinated as he drove to work in 2009. His murder has never been solved.
In September, Jansz applied for a humanitarian visa to resettle in Australia, but was denied.
Two weeks ago, after she was warned her passport would soon be seized, she fled Sri Lanka with her two sons. She is living in a western country and is applying for political asylum.
On Tuesday, a Colombo court issued a warrant for Jansz’s arrest, over a historic defamation case, brought by the MP Thilanga Sumathipala.
Mr Sumathipala was sentenced to two years’ jail for passport fraud, two judges were sacked and an underworld figure killed in a courtroom, following a series of articles written by Jansz.
From her new country, Jansz told Fairfax she felt safe, but was devastated to leave her homeland. ”It broke my heart, it shattered me. My sons and I were so happy there … But I was left with no option. I knew they were going to throw me in jail, or I would be attacked. I couldn’t keep fighting. I felt it was important I stayed out of jail, and stayed alive, for my kids.”
She says she will never return to Sri Lanka. ”There’s no going back for me, absolutely not. I feel lucky that I got out of this alive.”
Sri Lanka has one of the poorest press freedom records in the world. Violence against journalists is common, and media offices are often raided by police and shut down.
”If you dare to defy the government, you will pay a price,” Jansz said. ”My predecessor, Lasantha, he paid the ultimate price.”
Australian relations with Sri Lanka are a sensitive juncture, as both countries try to stem the flow of asylum seekers leaving Sri Lanka by boat bound for Australia. More than 5500 Sri Lankans have reached Australian shores this year, the highest number on record.
As part of the United Nations universal periodic review process – in which all UN countries have their human rights records assessed by fellow members – Australia told Sri Lanka it should ”reduce and eliminate all cases of abuse, torture or mistreatment by police and security forces”. Sri Lanka rejected the recommendations.