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FMM concerned over recent series of violent attacks, threats against journalists

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM press release:

FMM condemns continuous violence against media

FMM expresses its serious concern at the continuing violence being directed against journalists and media in the country. This trend, if not curtailed, will restrict media freedom and diminish people's right to information.

An acid attack on K.P. Mohan, defence reporter of Tamil language daily "Thnakkural", is the most recent in a series of attacks on journalists. An unidentified gang threw acid on him around 3:00 p.m. (local time) on 15 August 2007 while he was on his way home from the national hospital in Colombo. He was immediately admitted to the same hospital for treatment. This attack on Mohan is not only a threat to him, but will make all journalists think twice before doing any critical reporting.

In late June Mohan was assaulted twice on consecutive days - 30 and 29 June - by airmen over an argument about a media accreditation card. He was hospitalised and unable to work for a week as a result of the assault. A police inquiry into his complaint about the assault is ongoing.

On 16 August it was reported that police protection previously provided to Iqbal Athas, defence correspondent and associate editor of "The Sunday Times", was removed as of 15 August. He had been given police protection after being repeatedly threatened by members of security forces angered by his writing about arms deals.

Athas recently exposed a corrupt purchase of Mig 27 fighter jets. The case is now under the investigation of the Barbary commission of Sri Lanka. Government leaders accused Athas of having created a national security threat by exposing the deal. FMM has reason to think that his protection was removed in revenge for his coverage of this arms deal. The signal sent by this action is very dangerous.

In another incident on 16 August, police mistreated and forcibly removed journalists covering a protest in Mayuarapura, Hambantota, in which police wielding batons charged upon unarmed peasants.

Sahampathi Manage of Sirasa TV, Kulasingha Chaminda of ABC radio and Sanjeewa Mathaweea of "Swarnawahini" were the journalists obstructed by the police. Although all three have complained to the relevant authorities, no action has been taken. This is a clear violation of the people's right to information.

On 10 August, deputy Minister K.A. Faiz scolded journalist Jafrall Askhant of the Tamil daily "Werakesari" over a story with his byline; the minister threatened to kidnap and "finish off" the journalist, claiming that the story was incorrect. FMM has it from reliable sources that the minister used abusive language and actually threatened Askhant with abduction.

Threatening and abusing journalists violates not only media freedom but journalists' right to decent treatment.

In FMM's opinion, these are not isolated incidents involving angry individuals, but are expressions of the government's anti-media attitude. It is apparent that pressuring for one-sided reporting favourable to the government, and the suppression of other opinions and news, through the use of threats, force and accusations of malicious intent, has become de facto government policy. It is important that the government consider all these incidents as comprising a disturbing pattern.

FMM earnestly requests that government initiate independent and open inquires into these incidents, in order to bring the perpetrators to justice.

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