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Journalist followed by vehicles that tried to hit him; armed men break into another journalist's home

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

Signs of media repression: A journalist followed and another media worker threatened

The FMM, with regret and foreboding, notes that threats and intimidation of journalists continue in Sri Lanka, with two more disturbing cases reported.

A car and a motorbike followed investigative journalist Lasantha Ruhunage of the "Sinhala Ravaya" newspaper for more than 30 minutes on 29 January 2008, attempting to hit him from behind. This incident took place between 6:00 and 6:30 p.m. (local time) while he was on his way home after work. Lasantha told the FMM that he tried his best to evade the car that was following him, but it almost hit him while he was negotiating a bend. He made a complaint to Mirihana police about the incident on the afternoon of 30 January.

Lasantha wrote a series of investigative reports on the internal political rift within the People's Liberation Front (JVP) over the last two weeks in the "Ravaya" newspaper. On 29 January, a former leader of the JVP, Samantha Katipearachchi, complained to the judiciary that he is facing death threats from the JVP for leaking information to the press on the internal rift. The FMM strongly suspects the attempt to harm Lasantha was motivated by his recent articles on the JVP.

In another incident, two persons armed with a pistol entered the house of media worker Duleep Dushantha of the state-owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) on the night of 29 January. As he was not in the house at the time, they threatened his mother with death if she informed police of the incident.

Duleep was prominent in the agitation against the brutish behaviour of government minister Mervyn de Silva, who, on 27 December 2007, stormed into the SLRC and assaulted its news director. Fellow journalist Hemantha Mawalage, a news producer who spoke on behalf of enraged SLRC staff on the day of the minister's violent intrusion, was also attacked with a sharp knife on the night of 25 January and is still receiving medical treatment. The FMM has received credible information that underworld gangs have launched a witch hunt against leading media personnel who played key roles in the agitation. The threats against Duleep Dushantha are very likely linked to his role in the agitation.

Both incidents show that media and journalists in southern Sri Lanka are under an unprecedented siege by various anti-democratic forces. Threats and intimidation from those in the government and their private militias have become a daily occurrence that the police and government are unable and unwilling to stop.

The culture of impunity that prevails is evident in the fact that the Inspector General of Police, Victor Perera, has failed even to acknowledge a joint letter handed over to him by leading editors, newspaper owners and media organisations on 10 December 2007, requesting that he speed up investigations into offences against media personnel and journalists.

FMM strongly urges the government to look into these incidents immediately and take remedial measures that will address this dramatic and seemingly unstoppable erosion of media freedom and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

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