Feature Article

"Terrorists" likely perpetrated attacks on journalists, says Sri Lanka's Ambassador

[TamilNet, Saturday, 14 March 2009, 11:08 GMT]
In a meeting with a officials of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based media watchdog, Jaliya Wickramasuriya, Sri Lanka's Ambassador to the U.S. in responding to CPJ's accusation that "[t]here has been impunity for those who attack journalists in Sri Lanka, and there have been attempts to intimidate and silence critics of the government," denied there was any crisis of press freedom in Sri Lanka, and asserted that Sri Lanka's "image has been distorted. It has been called a place of violence, a place where journalists are threatened. But this image is not accurate," and added that "attacks on journalists may have been perpetrated by "terrorists" seeking to embarrass the government."

The CPJ delegation included board members Andrew Alexander, David Marash, Clarence Page, and Mark Whitaker in addition to Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director, and Washington Representative Frank Smyth.

Sri Lanka's Ambassador to U.S., Jaliya Wickramasuriya
Sri Lanka's Ambassador to U.S., Jaliya Wickramasuriya
Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director
Joel Simon, CPJ's executive director
Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator
Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator
"While we appreciate the opportunity to convey our concerns directly to the ambassador and his staff, we hoped to emerge from the meeting with assurances of a robust and vigorous investigation into these appalling crimes," said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. "We were disappointed not to receive any such assurance," CPJ's press release said.

CPJ had highlighted three specific cases that need urgent attention:
  • Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainayagam will have spent a year behind bars as of March 7, and is facing implausible terrorism charges.
  • Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, the editor of two Tamil-language papers, was detained February 27 for alleged contact with the suicide bombers who attacked Colombo by plane on February 20.
  • Iqbal Athas, the Sri Lankan Sunday Times' defense columnist and a former CPJ award winner, has been under constant harassment, and has been in and out of the country for months, fearing for his life.
the press release said, and raised concerns about a consistently high level of violence toward journalists that rose in January with three incidents, and the ongoing restrictions on reporting.

According to David Marash, CPJ Board Member, who attended the meeting, "an advisor to the Embassy from the Washington law firm Patton Boggs LLP said some confused reporting about the ongoing fighting between the government and the Tamil Tigers had been caused by "the fog of war." But Simon pointed out that the reality of the fighting had been shrouded not by fog, but by government restrictions barring news personnel from the battle zones, and by threats to prosecute critics of the government's military actions with treason."

According to CPJ's records, since Rajapaksa took high office in Sri Lanka, eight journalists have died of what CPJ considers to be premeditated murder. No one has been brought to trial in any of these cases, according to CPJ research.

In a report titled "Failure to Investigate" released on 23 February in preparation to the testimony by Bob Dietz to the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing on Sri Lanka's violence, CPJ said "Sri Lanka’s journalists are under intensive assault. Authorities have failed to carry out effective and credible investigations into the killing of journalists who question the government’s conduct of a war against Tamil separatists or criticize the military establishment. Three attacks in January targeting the mainstream media drew the world’s attention to the problem, but top journalists have been killed, attacked, threatened, and harassed since the government began to pursue an all-out military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in late 2006. Many local and foreign journalists and members of the diplomatic community believe the government is complicit in the attacks. "

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External Links:
CPJ: Failure to investigate
CPJ: Sri Lankan Embassy denies press freedom crisis
FOP: Sri Lanka: Attacks on the media
CPJ: Attacks on the Press in 2008: Sri Lanka
CPJ: CPJ urges Sri Lankan ambassador to investigate attacks


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