A leading local media rights group today raised serious concerns over a predawn break-in at the house of a senior female journalist in Colombo and demanded a swift investigation into the incident which is the latest in a string of violent atacks on journalists. In the early hours of Saturday (24) a group of men armed with knives and hand grenades stormed the residence of Mandana Ismail Abeywickrama, the Associate Editor of “The Sunday Leader” and the President of the newly formed Sri Lanka Journalists’ Trade Union (SLJTU).
The armed intruders forced their way into the house and threatened the journalist at knifepoint, while her family was asleep. The journalist husband of Abeywickrama, who returned home from work at the time of the incident, brought in the police who shot one of the intruders dead while the rest escaped. At least two of the escapees were later arrested according to police sources.
‘Ensure journalist’s safety’ – FMM
The Free Media Movement (FMM) called the Inspector General of Police for ‘rapid and thorough investigation’ into the matter while expressing ‘suspicion’ over the ‘true intent’ of the attackers.
The incident raises serious suspicion as the attackers had spent several hours going through various documents and files after cutting off the phone lines’ the FMM’s Convener Sunil Jayasekara said in a statement.
Days before the incident the tyres of the family vehicle had been slashed while a body of a dead cat was found dumped on their door step. ‘The latest incident proves that all such previous ‘mysterious’ incidents have to be understood as clear warning signs’ the FMM said in their statement.
‘We urge the Inspector General of Police to carry out an immediate investigation revealing the truth while ensuring the safety of the journalist and her family’ the statement further said.
‘Attacks on Mandana’
Meanwhile, the General Secretary of SLJTU, Priyantha Karunaratna, who spoke to media in Colombo said that the ‘sordid and organized act had been carried out by those who detest and are alarmed at the practice of the SLJTU and journalism of Ms. Abeywickrama.
‘The act would have ended Mandana’s life, though it fortunately didn’t. Interestingly, during the last two weeks a certain pro-government ‘national’ newspaper had slandered Mandana’s media practice as unpatriotic’ he said.
The incident came a day before the UN’s human rights chief Navi Pillay’s vsit to the island to take stock of the country’s ‘post war progress.’
Sri Lanka has one of the worst records in the world for press freedom and journalists safety and as has been repeatedly highlight by international media watch dogs. According to the detailed information gathered by the JDS,the government and its paramilitaries stand accused of killing at least 39 journalists and media workers since May 2004.