Feature Article

Justice more important than motorbikes and houses: Journalists in Colombo

[TamilNet, Saturday, 30 April 2016, 15:25 GMT]
More than one hundred Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim journalists in Colombo organised a protest in front of the Fort Railway Station on Friday condemning the Sri Lankan State for not investigating the assassinations of popular journalist Sivaram Dharmeratnam alias Taraki, who was abducted on 28 April 2005 and found shot dead behind the SL Parliament on the following day. Sivaram's assassination took place during the regime of Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge (CBK), who now heads the so-called ‘Office of the National Unity and Reconciliation’ while remaining tight lipped on the genocidal crimes committed under her rule. A Sinhala journalist described the protest as a big success demonstrating the continued solidarity among the sections of Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim journalists, who were behind the principled demand of Justice.

Colombo protest

The Justice approach has been swept under the carpet. The current regime is only attempting to silence the journalists through hijack and engineering by offering assistance in the form of motorbikes and housing, was the comment from journalists who took part in the protest held at Colombo Fort Railway station.

Working Journalists Association, Tamil Media Alliance, Free Media Movement, Muslim Media Forum and the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union organised the protest. Trade unions such as Ceylon Teachers Union also took part in the protest.

Colombo protest

Lasantha Ruhunuge, the president of Working Journalists Association (WJA) and Amirthanayagam Nixon, the president of Tamil Media Alliance (TMA), addressed the media personnel after the picketing. The protest took place between 11:00 p.m. and 12:00 p.m.

The message from both the WJA and the TMA went sharply against the failure of investigating the assassination of more than 18 Tamil journalists, including the killings of prominent journalist and Senior Editor of TamilNet Sivaram Dharmeratnam (2005) and BBC journalist Mylvaganam Nimalrajan (2000).

The current regime is only investigating the assassination of two cases of prominent Sinhala journalists, Lasanthan Wickramatunge (2009), the assassinated founder editor of The Sunday Leader and the case of missing journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda (2010), who was well known for his cartoons. While welcoming the investigations on the two cases, the WTJ and TMA speakers said there was a serious lack of a principled approach in investigating the cases of all assassinated journalists. One of the emotional participants at the protest was Prageeth Eknaligoda's wife demanding justice to all journalists regardless of ethnic divide and politics.

Mr Nixon said he was picketing along with Sivaram at the same locality in Fort station when Nimalajan was killed in Jaffna in October 2000 and when Aiyathurai Nadesan wes killed in Batticaloa in 2004. Then finally, he was also protesting at the same locality when Sivaram was slain in 2005, the president of Tamil Media Alliance said.

11 years have gone, the SL judiciary has proved it systemic failure in investigating the assassinations of Tamil journalists, Nixon said in his address to fellow journalists adding that the journalists were still standing with the same slogans at the same venue. The SL judiciary has released even one of the suspects in Sivaram case, he said. Sivaram was a founder member of the Tamil Media Alliance.

Lanka Peli, the president of Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, M.N. Ameen, the editor of Navama'ni daily, who represents the Muslim Media Forum, Chandana Keerthi Bandara, the chief of Radio Gagana and Lakshman Gunasekara, the editor of The Sunday Observer were among the participants at the protest.

The WJA and the TMA had met Mr Maithiripala Sirisena when he was nominated as presidential candidate and called for the establishment of a presidential commission to investigate into the killings of all journalists. The SL president was also reminded of this after coming to power by the WJA. Despite the assurances given during the election campaign, Mr Maithiripala had failed to establish a commission, the WJA sources said.

Media personnel involved in investigative journalism still fear for their safety under the rule of so-called ‘good governance’ politicians CBK, Maithiripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickramasinghe, the journalists further said.

At least 18 Tamil journalists have been killed, more than 22 still remain missing and more than 25 journalists from all communities still live in exile, the spokespersons of WJA and TMA said.

In the meantime, ‘Action Committee for Media Freedom’, an outfit propped up by genocidal Colombo's ‘Media Ministry’ was showcasing through poster campaigns that it was a co-organiser of a memorial event in Jaffna.

The funded outfit is involved in donating motorbikes and housing schemes to journalists as ‘reparations’ in an attempt to contain them.

However, the group's impact was limited in influencing Tamil journalists, the sources in Jaffna said. The Jaffna Press Club, when contacted by TamilNet, said the ‘Action Committee for Media Freedom’ was not a funding organiser of the memorial event.

Hijacking the symbolism of the Tamil struggle and distancing them from the sections of solidarity in the South is part of the ‘Political Counterinsurgency’, which initially claimed the life of Maamanithar Sivaram, was the opinion of exiled journalist Bashana Abeywardane, who gave a wide-ranging interview to TamilNet this week.

Samantha Power, the US Ambassador to United Nations, who visited Jaffna in November 2015, was refusing to be drawn-in to address the crime of genocide and the need for international investigations. Instead, she asked the journalists whether they had trust in the current regime of ‘Sri Lanka’.

When a Tamil journalist in Jaffna was stressing on the importance of investigating the assassinations of journalists stating that the investigations should start with the killing of Nimalarajan, Ms Power was again questioning why the journalist was particular on beginning the investigation from Nimalarajan's assassination instead of taking up a recent one.

Colombo protest
Sivaram memorial day protest in Colombo
Sivaram memorial day protest in Colombo
Photos from the protest staged in front of Fort Railway Station in Colombo
Sivaram memorial event in Jaffna
Sivaram memorial event marked in Jaffna by Tamil journalists on Friday.



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