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Journalists live in fear; culture of impunity entrenched

Sri Lankan journalists face death threats, attacks and intimidation for any criticism of the current regime.
Sri Lankan journalists face death threats, attacks and intimidation for any criticism of the current regime.

via Sunday Leader

Two Sri Lankan editors received death threats on 22 October identical to the one received by journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge weeks before he was murdered in January, report IFEX members. The end of the war has not ensured the safety of the country's journalists

Editors Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq of "The Sunday Leader" received letters handwritten in red ink, postmarked 21 October. They threatened: "If you write anymore, we will kill you and slice you into pieces," say IFEX members. Wickrematunge was the previous editor of the paper.

The death threats came after "The Sunday Leader" published a report on video footage allegedly showing Sri Lankan government soldiers executing Tamil prisoners. The paper published a technical report from the U.S. stating that the video is authentic.

"The Sunday Leader" has been relentless in its criticism of the government. Currently, Jansz and Leader Publications are dealing with three complaints instigated by the President's brother, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, reports Reporters Without Borders (RSF). One complaint accuses Jansz of contempt of court for publishing a profile of the Defence Secretary after a judge ordered the press group not to publish anything about him. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is known to equate criticism of the government with treason.

Journalist and former convenor of the Sri Lankan Free Media Movement (FMM) Uvindu Kurukulasuriya told ARTICLE 19: "The Sri Lankan government has failed to investigate the murder of Lasantha and bring his killers to justice and now there are the same death threats against his successors."

Intimidation and assaults of independent journalists have crushed freedom of expression, says RSF. In a separate incident, Chandana Sirimalwatta, editor of the newspaper "Lanka Irida", was detained and questioned by Colombo police on 17 October about his sources regarding an article on conflicts between the president and the head of the armed forces, Gen. Sarath Fonseka. On 20 October, the government information office threatened to "blacklist" online media that reported on tensions inside the government. As well, in June, journalist Poddala Jayantha was abducted and tortured.

On 28 September, several unidentified men tried to break into the home of journalist Dileesha Abeysundera. She works for a Sinhala-language weekly that is part of the Leader Publications group and is deputy secretary of the FMM. Abeysundera told RSF she believes she is being threatened because of her work campaigning for media freedom and against the government's plan to restore a press council.

On a positive note, on 26 October a court ordered the release of magazine publisher Vetrivel Jasiharan and his partner Vadivel Vallarmathy after 19 months in detention on charges of terrorism, reports the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Jasiharan was the owner of OutreachSL.com, a website edited by J.S. Tissainayagam, who is currently in jail.

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