3RD LEAD (Adds detail)
Sri Lanka hunting media’s Tamil sources - RSF
[TamilNet, Friday, 29 May 2009, 23:47 GMT]
Apart from threatening to prosecute journalists who attempt to visit the northern areas captured from the Liberation Tigers, Sri Lanka’s military is trying to identify Tamil civilians who provided information to the foreign press by infiltrating paramilitaries into their military-run refugee camps, RSF (Reporters Without Borders) said Friday. While the Army general appointed in charge of resettling refugees says “all foreign journalists are working against his homeland,” the country’s police chief claims that several journalists, “mostly Sinhalese”, were on the payroll of the LTTE and were involved in the insurgency.
RSF said Friday it is “extremely worried” by statements by Sri Lankan officials, including Army commander Gen. Sarath Fonseka, that journalists who visited areas formerly controlled by the Tamil Tigers will be prosecuted.
“At the same time, access to refugee camps and Tamil areas in general is still severely regulated, preventing the press from obtaining information about the fate of the Tamil population,” RSF noted.
“Journalists and witnesses who dared to speak out have been intimidated and arrested.
“The army is trying to identify Tamils who provided information to the foreign press. … Members of Tamil paramilitary groups have been infiltrated into some camps with the aim of identifying those who are trying to get their stories to the media,” RSF said.
“The army recently blocked the arrival of several dozen nuns who had obtained health ministry permission to visit camps to help refugees, especially those who have been psychologically traumatised.”
RSF protested that access for humanitarian agencies to the militarized camps in which 300,000 shell-shocked Tamil people are detained is being restricted.
The resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 27 May praising the Sri Lankan government was an insult to the Tamil victims, RSF added.
RSF condemned the military’s treatment of Vavuniya-based journalist Mahamuni Subramaniam, a stringer for various news media including Reuters.
Subramaniam was arrested on 14 May while covering the Sri Lankan justice minister’s visit to the Ramanathan refugee camp.
Claiming that only journalists with the ITN and (official) Rupavahini TV stations were allowed to film or take pictures of the minister’s meeting with a general, the police confiscated Subramaniam’s expensive camera. He has petitioned the High Court for its return.
“During these inquiries once Major General Chandrasiri came out and verbally abused me saying I am a LTTE suspect and ordered the military to check me thoroughly.” Subramaniam said in a letter.
“When I claimed that I am a reporter for Reuters, he vehemently said all foreign journalists are working against his homeland.”
Maj. Gen. G. A. Chandrasiri was two weeks ago appointed by President Mahinda Rajapakse to be the competent authority to supervise the relief programme for the hundreds of thousands of Tamils interned in the camps.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s Inspector General of Police (IGP) Jayantha Wickramaratne claims to have identified journalists, “mostly Sinhalese” reportedly on the LTTE payroll. He did not provide names.
“"Although the Police know more details of this treason I do not like to reveal all of them since it might obstruct further investigations,” the Police chief said.
“They betrayed the noble profession and not only distorted and misreported against Sri Lanka but also worked for cash and other fringe benefits like fully funded foreign trips."
The Daily Mirror quoted him as saying many of these journalists were connected with international organizations and had been always clamouring for media freedom and democratic and human rights of the people.
These journalists had fled Sri Lanka, alleging threat against their life but actually they had fled the country as they were involved in a crime, the Police Chief said.
"They simply could not face the law," he said explaining the reason for their departure from the country as the LTTE was losing the war.
The IGP said some of these journalists were misreporting, at the behest of the LTTE, that the Sri Lanka Army was shelling civilians. They were simply trying to concoct evidence to help friends of the LTTE to prosecute Sri Lanka leaders on war crimes, the IGP alleged.