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Government unleashes another attack on journalist for his coverage of defence-related matters

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 2 October 2007 FMM press release:

Government unleashes another attack on journalist Iqbal Athas

2nd October 2007, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) expresses its serious concern and takes strong exception to recent remarks by the official military spokesperson of the Government and also those published on the Ministry of Defense website naming and shaming journalist Iqbal Athas for his coverage on defense related matters in Sri Lanka. Mr. Athas is the Associate Editor and the Defense Correspondent of The Sunday Times.

In a lengthy article captioned "Mr. Iqbal Athas, stop insulting our soldiers' sacrifices" and posted on the Ministry of Defense website, the Government charges that "Mr. Athas' recent work raises doubts whether he has been assisting in the psychological operations of the LTTE terrorists." It further says that "Whoever attempts to reduce public support to the security forces or attempts to damage the loyalty of the soldiers towards their commanders at this moment can only be considered as those who serve the cause of the terrorists." This article, dated on 2nd October 2007, can be read in full at http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20071001_06.

On Sunday, 30th September 2007, the Government military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakakara referring to an article of Mr. Athas stated that it "aims to discredit the government and the military" and "is a clear support to terrorism". He went on to say that the "people should consider these articles as treacherous acts" and "requested" that the media not publish such articles in the future. All government TV and Radio channels in Sri Lanka carried his statement.

In late September 2007, Mr. Iqbal Athas' security was withdrawn and a hate campaign against him launched by senior government politicians and officials in the wake of his investigative journalism on the essentially corrupt nature of a multi-million dollar MiG-27 attack aircraft purchase involving government officials.

When the Sri Lankan government delegation to UN General Assembly sittings was questioned on Athas' safety at a press conference held in New York, they cited his column as an example of media freedom in Sri Lanka.

The recent statements by the Government ridicule this assertion.

It is damningly clear that these attacks on Iqbal Athas are an attempt to quash his voice and his investigative journalism exposing the corrupt practices of government. While the FMM recognises that the government can submit their point of view and that it need not agree with the viewpoints put forward by Mr. Athas or any other journalist, we stand vehemently opposed to the reprehensible vocabulary of hate and harm that colours this government's approach to any opinion that questions its bona fide. Labelling journalists as terrorists or supporters of the LTTE carries with it life-threatening consequences in a context where media freedom and the freedom of expression have significantly deteriorated along with the safety of journalists.

The FMM urgently requests the Government to meaningfully strengthen and support media freedom and the freedom of expression as well as undertake impartial and thorough investigations into corrupt practices as a measure of its commitment to democratic governance in Sri Lanka.

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