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FMM condemns latest series of attacks, threats and intimidation against journalists and media institutions

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

Intimidation and harassment of journalists continue unabated in Sri Lanka

18 July 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: Given the number of reports on the intimidation and harassment of journalists the Free Media Movement (FMM) has received over the last two weeks, it is apparent that the Cabinet Subcommittee appointed by the government to look into the grievances of the media community is powerless to foster media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka or investigate meaningfully the violence directed a journalists.

In early July, individuals claiming to be with the Police visited FMM spokesperson Sunanda Deshapriya's residence. He and his family had just moved to a newly rented residence and this incident took place within weeks of changing homes. It was found out that the names and positions given were completely false.

Sirasa TV court reporter T. Jayakumar was threatened and asked not to report a fundamental rights petition filed by a Major General against the military high command. The petition was heard in the Supreme Court on 7 July. When the court proceedings ended, a civil person came to journalist Jayakumar and threatened him against reporting the court proceedings to Sirasa TV. FMM is aware that around one month ago unknown persons had visited his residence and asked questions about him.

On 13 July, a Sinhala-language nationalist Sunday newspaper carried a distorted and inflammatory opinion in its defense column accusing a photographer of working against national security for taking a photograph of a bomber taking off from Sri Lanka's only international airport. The article said: "nowhere in the world is this kind of photograph allowed. Defense authorities should investigate how this foreign contract journalist was able to take this photograph."

On 7 July, journalist Chaminda Kulathunga, provincial correspondent of Hambantota for a number of radio stations operating from Colombo, reported to FMM that he was assaulted by Hanbantota Police HQI Kalinga Silva, and his national identity card and tape recorder were seized. He was covering a demonstration organised by the Organization to Protect Peoples Rights in Hambabtota, where people demanded some roads and reservoirs to be repaired immediately.

On 14 July, Meegoda Hemapala, freelance provincial correspondent of "Giraduru Kotte", was threatened with death and his house was surrounded by a violent mob angered over his reporting of a child abuse case by police. Journalist Hemapala told FMM that OIC police had personally threatened him over this incident.

Provincial correspondent Mahamuni Subramaniam, working from the Northern town of Vavuniya, reported to FMM that he has been facing continuous intimidations from known and unknown groups. A group of persons visited him on 7 July and questioned him about a photo published in the papers about the bomb blast in front of the Office of the Senior Superintendent of Police on 16 June. In his letter to FMM, Subramaniam says that two other Tamil journalists are living in fear due to continuing threats and intimidations from various quarters.

On 16 July an anonymous caller threatened Sri Lanka Press Institute (SLPI) staff. The caller said, "Your boss has come to work today, we will 'bump' you all." The person referred to was Mr. Ranga Kalansuriya, the Director General of SLPI, who reported to work that day after spending a few days working from home following death threats. This clearly shows there are persons who keep a close watch on SLPI and its staff movements.

On 16 July, a journalist with the Tamil daily "Veerakesari" was stopped by the Police at Town Hall junction in Colombo and questioned for nearly half an hour although he produced his media accreditation and newspaper identity card.

Condemning all these attacks and intimidations on journalists and media institutions, FMM demands that the cabinet sub committee on media take immediate action:
1. to investigate all these incidents in order to take appropriate measures.
2. to advice police personnel to respect journalists' right to gather information and not to interfere with their professional activities.

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