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Two more media workers killed in radio station bombing, bringing total to five; BBC broadcast censored; journalist threatened

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 28 November 2007 FMM press release:

Voice of Tigers radio station bombed, five media workers killed
BBC Sinhala programme "Sandeshaya" censored by state radio
Provincial journalist threatened

Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is appalled by continuing violations of the Freedom of Expression in Sri Lanka by State authorities and the military.

On the evening of 27 November 2007, Sri Lankan Air Force jets bombed the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Ealam (LTTE) radio station Voice of Tigers (VOT), killing five of its media workers. The station location was well known for years. No government in the past has attacked the station as it was a civilian office, not a military installation.

It is significant that the attack was conducted two hours before the annual Heroes Day speech by LTTE leader V. Prabhakaran.

The Geneva Conventions forbid the targeting of civilian installations - whether state-owned or not - unless they are being used for military purpose. The Conventions also very clearly state that media personnel should be considered civilians in any military conflict with due protection afforded by those in charge of security.

The FMM deplores the attack on the Tiger radio station. We believe that mindlessly bombing civilian run media infrastructure and killing media personnel in the process simply because one does not agree with what is broadcast is to callously disregard established international humanitarian law. The FMM concurs with the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) who stated "While we do not endorse or support the views of any particular media organisation, we strongly denounce the bombing of VOT as an attack on freedom of speech and a serious violation of international law."

On the same day the State owned and controlled radio station (SLRC) manipulated the time of broadcast, effectively put off the air the Sinhala language programme of the BBC, Sanadeshaya. According to FMM sources the sections related to the LTTE leader's Heroes Day speech were completely censored by the SLRC. This is a clear case of media censorship by SLRC barely 24 hours after the Media Minister's spurious claim in the parliamentary budget debate that there is no media censorship in Sri Lanka.

In another violation of the right of journalists based in the provinces to report freely and accurately, the President of Tamankaduwa local government authority in Polonnaruwa verbally assaulted journalist Karunarathna Gamge of the Divaina newspaper. Mr. Gamage, the President of Polonnaruwa District Journalists Association, was covering a story related to garbage whilst taking some photographs.

FMM is disturbed to hear of this behavior by a government official and strongly condemns what is tantamount to media censorship by directly threatening journalists. As Mr. Gamage has lodged a complaint with the police, the FMM requests that authorities take urgent measures to investigate this intolerable behavior and bring the culprit to book.

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