16 October 2014
Following threats by an organized group to stop an awards presentation ceremony to investigative journalists arranged by Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), those present formed themselves into an ‘Investigative Journalists Action Committee’ and requested the President and the government to hold an investigation immediately and arrest those responsible.
Following is the full text of the statement.
As media personnel who on invitation participated at the presentation of certificates for journalists trained on investigative journalism on 15th October 2014 at 10am at Hotel Janaki, Colombo, we are deeply disturbed by the threats leveled against us by an organized group calling themselves ‘Rata beragath deshapremi balakaya’. The group threatened to attack and even kill those who attended the meeting.
As journalists who provide a yeomen’s service to the general public in the dissemination of information in our country, we are most concerned about the current restrictive and unsafe environment created for media personnel where they are unable to even attend an event organized to present certificates for training received to enhance their professional capabilities, without receiving death threats.
When analyzing the series of events which took place from the time this meeting was confirmed, it is clear to us that State Security Forces were very much involved in the intimidation that followed. On 13th October Intelligence Officers have made several inquiries from the journalists involved in this program about the nature of the program. On the evening of 14th October phone calls were made to the venue informing them to cancel the meeting and to the participants asking them to refrain from attending.
Furthermore, on the 14th evening threats were made to staff members of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL), Jayasiri Jayasekera, one of the trainers of this program as well as to Janoor Kichilan and Amadoru Amarajiva, both participating journalists, from the number 0756245489. Later in the night a text message generating from the number 0725436266 was once again sent to them and a few others from the group ‘Rata beragath deshapremi balakaya’ warning them against attending the event scheduled for the following day.
Participants travelling to Colombo for the event continued to receive threatening calls throughout the night of the 14th and on the 15th morning. At around 10am on the 15th two individuals riding an unmarked motorbike threw a parcel with a notice marked “last warning” towards the entrance of the hotel in broad daylight. Due to this tense atmosphere the organizers were compelled to relocate the event at a safer location. While the event was going on at this new location calls were made to personal mobile phones of two of the organizers using the landline number 0112438359 asking them to reveal the name of the new location and threatening to kill them if they did not do so.
We are not naïve enough to believe that such actions could be carried out by civilians or civil groups. We very strongly state that these degrading and illegal actions were carried out by state sponsored elements. Those of us who have been involved in this profession for years know fully well that even during the height of the war journalists were not pursued, intimidated and persecuted on this scale.
Since TISL and their staff were also threatened, they will probably stop doing training further. We are very much concerned as to who would provide training to Sri Lanka’s journalists hereafter.
As citizens and journalists who respect the law of the land and media ethics, we will at no stage accept such lawlessness, irrespective of the power and the high standing of its perpetrators. We consider the labeling of journalists as LTTE supporters an insult of great magnitude especially considering the service rendered towards national security and exposing criminal activities by journalists. We challenge this cowardly group to come forward and prove this allegation without working behind hiding themselves.
The threats we faced yesterday cannot be viewed as personal threats towards journalists. Rather it was a threat leveled against media freedom, citizen’s right to information and citizens’ democratic rights. We earnestly request His Excellency the President, the government, the Secretary to the Ministry of Defense as well as the Inspector General of Police and other relevant authorities to investigate into the matter urgently and arrest the perpetrators accountable.
Amidst the dark clouds of threats and intimidation that journalists present formed an “Investigative Journalists Action Committee” to promote investigative journalism in Sri Lanka. These dark events have only fuelled our commitment and determination towards upholding and protecting all democratic rights including the freedom for media, freedom of publication, right to information and the right to association.
Restricting media freedom plunges the entire society into darkness and creates an environment where lawlessness will rule. We implore our fellow citizens to stand against such intimidation and come forward to protect democracy and freedom.
On behalf of the Investigative Journalists Action Committee,
Janoor Kitchilan M. Liyanarachchi