RSF urges EU, US to help protect Sri Lanka journalist
[TamilNet, Friday, 31 August 2007, 06:58 GMT]
Reporters sans frontiers (RSF) in a press release issued Wednesday urged
European and US Embassies to do their utmost to
protect Iqbal Athas, investigative journalist of
the Sunday Times weekly in Sri Lanka, who had
gone into hiding for fear of his life after he published an
article, revealing corruptions Sri
Lanka State's purchase of Mig-fighter jets from
Ukraine. Athas finds himself the
target of some members of the government and the
army and Sri Lanka's President should order the speedy
restoration of Iqbal Athas' security, RSF further said in the press release.
Mr Athas also contributes to Jane's Defence Weekly and CNN. He was awarded
the 1994 prize of the Committee to protect Journalists.
The following is the full text of the RSF press release:
LIFE OF JOURNALIST IQBAL ATHAS IN DANGER AFTER HIS REVELATIONS ABOUT
PURCHASE OF UKRAINIAN MIGSEuropean and US embassies urged to protect threatened journalist
Reporters Without Borders today voiced deep concern about the safety of top
investigative journalist Iqbal Athas and his colleagues on the Sunday Times
whom sectors of the army are trying to gag or kill after he made startling
revelations about Sri Lanka's purchase of Mig-27 fighter jets from Ukraine.
The worldwide press freedom organisation urged European and US embassies to
do their utmost to protect Athas, after receiving an email from the
journalist in which he said he feared for his life and had gone into hiding
for fear of attack.
"President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, will be
held personally responsible by the journalist community for anything that
happens to Iqbal Athas and his colleagues on the press group that publishes
the Sunday Times and Lankadeepa," the organisation said.
"This senior defence specialist has been the victim of several previous
attacks and death threats and now finds himself again the target of some
members of the government and the army. The head of state should order the
speedy restoration of Iqbal Athas's security and an investigation should be
launched to identify those behind latest threats against him and some of
his colleagues," it said.
"The fact that the journalist has already stopped writing his defence
column is already a setback for press freedom in Sri Lanka" it concluded.
Government supporters held a protest outside Athas's Colombo home on 27
August in the name of a hitherto unknown organisation calling itself
"People's organisation to safeguard true journalist". Around 50 people
brandished banners condemning him.
A report on the News 1st channel showed that most of the demonstrators did
not even know the journalist's name, pronouncing it "Athaus" and "Arthal".
Sri Lankan journalist organisations slammed this parody of a demonstration,
clearly organised by the authorities and putting Athas in serious danger.
In the evening of 27 August, a man who introduced himself as an officer in
the Air Force turned up at the offices of the press group publishing the
Sunday Times and Lankadeepa. Several witnesses told Reporters Without
Borders that he made a death threat against journalist W. G. Gunaratne who
translates Iqbal Athas's articles into Sinhala for the newspaper
Lankadeepa. Clearly frightened, Gunaratne declined to confirm the threats
and even told several dailies to publish a denial in their tomorrow's
editions. "He didn't even dare look us in the eye," one journalist on the
Overnight on 18 August, police removed without warning the permanent
security around Athas's home, which had been in place since 1998. Three
days before, on 15 August, the Defence Ministry withdrew special forces
police who had protected him since 1998 while going about his work.
Athas revealed in reports published on 12 and 19 August that the Ukrainian
government had launched an investigation following the sale of Mig-27
fighter jets to Sri Lanka in extremely disturbing circumstances. The
beneficiary of the Sri Lankan payments was an unknown company based in
London without a proper business address. The revelations confirmed an
earlier investigation carried out by Athas and published in December 2006
on the highly controversial purchase of second-hand planes by Sri Lanka at
an exorbitant price.
As well as being editorial consultant of the Sunday Times, Iqbal Athas
contributes to Jane's Defence Weekly and CNN. He was awarded the 1994 prize
of the Committee to protect Journalists.