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Notoriously anti-media government minister publicly assaults, threatens two journalists

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

Brutish Sri Lankan Government MP attacks media again and again

5th August 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The Free Media Movement (FMM) is outraged to record the disgraceful and violent behaviour of the Minister of Labour, Mervyn Silva, in assaulting two journalists from the Sirasa television network in full view of the police, a larger number of other VIPs, and the general public. This latest affront to media freedom by a government minister took place at the opening of a new flyover bridge in Kelaniya on 4 August 2008.

FMM notes with deep regret that not a single police officer present when this incident took place intervened to stop the attack by the minister.

On an invitation by the Ministry of Highways, Sirasa TV had sent a crew of two to cover the opening of second phase of the flyover bridge at Kelaniya. As it is well known that Silva physically and verbally attacks the MBC Network at every opportunity, Sirasa personnel had asked for assurance from the Ministry of Highways that the journalists sent to cover the event would not be harmed. The Media Secretary for the Ministry of Highways, Shirantha Premawardene, had given this assurance.

However, Silva and his coterie of thugs assaulted Sirasa journalist Thushara Saliya Ranawaka and video cameraman Waruna Sampath and seized their cameras. Sirasa TV footage of the attack shows very clearly that it was Minister who led the attack. The Minister's snarling threat that he would "have to break the Buddhist teaching of not taking any person's life" is clearly audible in the footage. This beggars belief and the FMM unequivocally condemns this dastardly act. Sirasa TV News Director Susil Kindelpitiya has made three complaints to the police against the errant minister but no action has taken to question him or bring him to justice.

A government that - even at the recently-concluded South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting - has stated that media freedom was vibrant in Sri Lanka is unable and unwilling to hold this notorious minister accountable for his actions. And while Silva enjoys complete impunity and protection from those at the highest levels of political office, journalists have to live with the consequences of being attacked, their equipment being damaged, their lives put at risk and police who turn a blind eye to their plight.

The well-known and universally condemned violent assault by this minister against the news director of the state-owned television broadcaster Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) in December 2007 has not resulted in any investigation whatsoever. On 28 July at about 11.00 p.m. (local time), the minister, with a band of thugs, broke into a shop in the industrial zone of Nuwaragala, in Pollonnaruwa District, owned by Mr. K.M.L. Jayasinghe, a supporter of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) political party, assaulted the people in the shop, shot at them and damaged the shop and motorcycles parked there, according to the Media Unit of the JVP.

No one has questioned the minister to date on this incident.

The FMM challenges the government and the appropriate cabinet sub-committee to investigate these attacks against the media and to take immediate action against this brutish minister. The FMM has already noted the inefficacy of the sub-committee when it comes to strengthening media freedom in Sri Lanka. The failure to bring this minister to justice, he who epitomizes the government's callous disregard for freedom of expression and media freedom, directly supports violence against media in Sri Lanka.

For further information on Silva's December 2007 assault on the SLRC news director, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89334

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