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Journalists face death threats for protesting minister's attack on media outlet

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 6 January 2008 FMM press release:

Journalists face death threats for resisting government MP's thuggery

6 January 2008, Colombo - A number of journalists in Sri Lanka have received credible information that underworld gangs have been ordered to threaten, harass and even kill them for their involvement in protests held in response to the recent outrageous behaviour of government MP Mervyn de Silva.

De Silva, the Minister of Labour, stormed into the state-run television station Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC) on 27 December 2007 with a group of thugs, that we now know included murderers and underworld drug dealers, and brutally assaulted the station's news director, Mr. T.M.G. Chandrasekara.

At the time, journalists and staff of the SLRC, together with colleagues from other media organizations, surrounded the offices of the chairman of SLRC to barricade in the minister and his motley gang of thugs until the arrival of the police. The minister then apologized for his behaviour live on camera. Although the FMM regrets that the situation escalated to the point that the minister and one of his thugs were assaulted, we understand the feelings of the journalists who faced such an unprecedented attack.

The FMM is now deeply disturbed to hear that - instead of immediate and stern disciplinary measures being taken against the minister - underworld gangs, in collusion with senior politicians, are planning to intimidate and even murder some journalists involved in this incident.

Three leading media personnel of the MBC TV and Radio network who covered the incident extensively - the head of MTV, Chevaan Daniel; Sirasa director Kingsley Ratnayaka; and Sirasa news director Susil Kedelpitya - have filed complaints with the Maharagama police over death threats they have recently received. Their complaints record the names of underworld persons who allegedly have been given contracts to kill them. Even more shockingly, the FMM has received credible information that Sanath Balasuriya, president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Dharmasiri Lankapeli, general secretary of the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU), and a number of other senior journalists, trade union and media activists may also be targeted for assassination in relation to the SLRC incident.

This situation is exacerbated by the fact that the country's president has, to date, not taken any meaningful steps against de Silva's reprehensible behaviour.

We note with great concern that the SLRC incident and its aftermath proves beyond an iota of doubt the president's and his government's complete and utter disregard for the rule of law and democracy. This despicable culture of impunity and state-sponsored terror places journalists who report on the gross abuse of power in the untenable position of having to fear for their lives and those of their loved ones.

We place the security of all those so threatened squarely in the hands of the government and the president. The responsibility is theirs and theirs alone to ensure that all journalists and media personnel facing the threat of physical harm are afforded the fullest protection from underworld criminal elements and that MP Mervyn de Silva is urgently brought to justice for his deranged abuse of power.

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