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Journalist knifed following death threats

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 26 January 2008 joint press release by FMM and other organisations:

Journalist cut with sharp knife

We, the five media major media organisations in Sri Lanka, are shocked and appalled by the knife attack on journalist Lal Hemantha Mawalage on the night of 25 January 2008 in Athurigiriya, a suburb of Colombo. Mawalage was on his way home at around 11.00 p.m. (local time) when he was attacked by two men on a motorcycle, who were laying in wait for him. He received severe cuts on his right arm and was admitted to Ward 72 of the Colombo general hospital and underwent surgery on the morning of 26 January. Mawalage is a producer in the news division of the state-controlled television station, Sri Lanka Rupavahini Cooperation (SLRC).

On 27 December 2007, Labour Minister Mervyn de Silva stormed into the television station with a group of thugs associated with the underworld and assaulted its news director. Journalist Mawalage was among those who spoke live on behalf of SLRC employees as the whole SLRC staff protested against the minister's intrusion.

Our organisations have received credible information that some underworld criminal gangs were planning to attack journalists who played a leading role in the protest against the minister and his gang. Three leading media personnel of the MBC TV and Radio network, which covered the incident extensively - the Channel Head of MTV Channel One Chevaan Daniel, Sirasa Director Kingsley Ratnayaka and MTV/MBC News Director Susil Kindelpitya - lodged complaints with the Maharagama police over death threats they received after the incident. Their complaints recorded the names of underworld persons who have been allegedly given contracts to kill them.

Journalist Mawalage received continuous death threats after his role in the SLRC staff protest. He has lodged a complaint with the Cinnamon Gardens police station with regard to the death threats he received. On 23 January, his vehicle was hit by another, which sped away.

We strongly suspect that this knife attack could be in retaliation for his role in the SLRC staff protest. There have been no past threats against him, for any reason, according to our information.

This attack could send a strong message to the journalist community and spread fear if the perpetrators are not arrested immediately. Our organizations urge the police and the government to initiate an immediate and impartial inquiry into this heinous crime against a journalist and freedom of the press, and to bring the culprits to justice.

We hope that this will not be another attack on media in Sri Lanka which will be swept under the carpet, as has happened to more than 100 press freedom violations in recent times.

(Signed by)
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA)
Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU)
Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF)
Sri Lanka Tamil Journalists Alliance (SLTJA)
Free Media Movement (FMM)

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