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Journalist target of intimidation, surveillance following reports on corruption

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 17 February 2008 FMM press release:

TV news director followed by hostile group

17 February 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The FMM is disturbed to hear of a complaint made by Susil Kindelpitiya, news director of the popular Sinhala TV channel Sirasa, to the police headquarters in Colombo. In his complaint, Kindelpitiya said he was followed by a hostile group that forced open the door of his car in an apparent attempt to harm him. The complaint was lodged on the morning of 15 February 2008. The incident occurred on the night of 14 February.

Kindelpitiya notes that on the morning of the 14th, two unknown persons trespassed in front of his residence. A group of unknown persons had forced open the door of his car while he was jogging on that morning. Then, between 8:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. (local time), he was followed by a pick-up truck that tried to overtake his car. There are also reports of suspicious persons keeping surveillance of his movements on 17 February.

Sirasa, the Sinhala-language channel of the MTV-MBC network, has been at the forefront of news coverage and investigative reporting in the public interest, notably through a news segment called Action TV. Action TV has recently exposed a number of stories on corruption involving powerful figures. For instance, in its news bulletin of 14 February, it exposed how 2,800 50 kg bags of sugar ordered by a magistrate to be destroyed found their way to the market, with some bags re-sold to local merchants and illicit breweries.

The FMM stands convinced that the attempt to harm journalist Kindelpitiya is related to his work as news director of Sirasa, and most probably was prompted by powerful figures involved in large-scale corruption deals.

We unequivocally condemn this attempt to intimidate, harm and harass a journalist. We are angered and frustrated by the miserable failure of government and police to investigate large-scale corruption and misuse of power as exposed by the media in Sri Lanka. The culture of impunity and vicious anti-media rhetoric by public officials and government MPs fuel this corruption by severely undermining the safety and security of journalists who highlight gross abuses of power.

With the government unable and unwilling to bring to justice those responsible for corruption, and with journalists under fire for their courageous reporting, we note with alarm that this incident highlights the significant challenges facing media freedom in Sri Lanka today and how little protection there really is for journalists and media personnel who dare to report inconvenient truths.

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