[Sri Lanka police good at different things (photo: telegraph.uk)]
Journalists and staff members of the Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) made complaints to the Inspector General of Police on the threats they received for conducting an event to award certificates to the trained Investigative Journalists in Colombo recently.
As part of its regular programme of work, TISL organized a series of training programmes for journalists to build their capacity on investigative journalism. All resource persons and participants were Sri Lankans. At the completion of the training TISL organized an event to award certificates to the trained 60 journalists and urge them to continue to do more balanced and investigative stories on corruption and governance.. The event was scheduled to take place at a Colombo Hotel in Colombo 05 on the 15th October 2014.
Soon after the invitations were sent to the participants, TISL staff members as well as the trainees started receiving threatening telephone calls. They threatened TISL Senior Manager Shan Wijethunge, trainer Jayasiri Jayasekara and trainee from Kurunagala Janur Kichilan using very abusive language. They not only threatened Shan Wijethunge but threatened his family too.
On 14th Tuesday threatening SMS messages were sent to almost all the staff members who were involved in the programme. This SMS was received by more than 50% of the invited participants too. As to how they got the phone numbers of the participants and Shan’s family remains a mystery.
The continued threats prompted TISL to cancel the reservation at the Hotel and move to another venue and conduct the event. TISL thought there could be a repetition of the recent incident when an organaised gang gate crashed a TISL workshop held in Negambo. Earlier three TISL IJ training workshops were disrupted.
In spite of the challenges TISL managed to conduct the programme at a separate location. Victor Ivan, editor Ravaya newspaper and Bureau chief of AFP, Amal Jayasinghe made presentations and representatives from the other media organaisations too participated in support of the event.
Meanwhile, two staff members who were stationed at the Hotel to facilitate the participants to travel to the new location observed more than 15 onlookers possibly intelligence officers in plain clothes hanging around the hotel. One of them riding a motor cycle threw a piece of paper towards the front door of the hotel. It carried a threatening message to the hotel.
Reliable sources informed TISL that they have photographed the TISL staff members who were at the Hotel from 7.30am to 11,00am on the 15TH. They had also tried to get more details about them. Three persons have come to the Hotel on the 15th around noon after the two staff members left and tried to get details about TISL staff members from the hotel.
SL informs Police Chief of intimidation, death threats, event obstruction to no avail
Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) has written to the Inspector General of the Sri Lanka Police (IGP), citing death threats and intimidation directed towards the TISL staff and associates, and also the obstruction of events organised by TISL between May and October this year.
The letter cited a series of events that had occurred, disrupting the activities carried out by TISL from May tilll November 2014.
It has been alleged that intimidation, surveillance and death threats were directed at the TISL staff and their families, further, several hotels and other venues booked by TISL were threatened, which ultimately led to the cancellation of TISL programmes and events, several of these venues were also forced to vacate TISL participants in the middle of the night.
TISL Executive Director, S. Ranugge alleged that all these acts were carried out by those believed to be attached to Defence establishments. He added that these unidentified individuals suspected to be from these Defence establishments, had forced many venues to vacate TISL participants from their rooms in the middle of the night.
“The primary target of these attacks appears to be events organised for Tamil medium journalists from the North and East,” the TISL report to the IGP said. The report further stated that it was falsely alleged that these workshops were organised in support of the LTTE, and was used to gather evidence to be submitted to the inquiry conducted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The TISL alleged that, in spite of the numerous complaints made to the police by the TISL, only one has come under some form of investigation. In addition to that, it also alleged that Police had forced TISL and the venues to halt their programmes, due to protests by organised but unidentified persons, rather than disperse the protestors. One such incident cited by the TISL report was dated June 7, 2014, when Police and the Hotel management had forced the cancellation of a rescheduled workshop for Tamil Medium journalists. The workshop was halted after a group of protestors had gathered outside the hotel premises displaying slogans about TISL staff members and threatening to assault them.
The report by the TISL also made note of an incident where one of the speakers for a meeting which was organised for journalists at Janaki Hotel on October 15, got a threatening message telling him “The meeting organised for journalists at Janaki Hotel on 15.10.2014 at 10.00 am is cancelled. Do not attend this meeting. You will be attacked. RATA BERAGATH DESHAPREMI BALAKAYA.” On the day after the event, some participants had allegedly been questioned by a TID unit police officer about the event. The officer had also stated that Shan Wijethunga (Senior Manager at TISL) ‘would be taken care of later’.
The letter urged the IGP to order an effective investigation into the aforementioned allegations and to identify the culprits and take necessary legal action against them. The TISL is yet to receive a formal reply to the letter dated October 27, 2014