The Paris based media rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has written to President Mahinda Rajapaksa asking him to put a stop to arrests and intimidation of journalists working for privately-owned and foreign media.
“This wave of post-election violence could cast a lasting stain on the start of President Rajapaksa’s second term and bodes ill for the political climate during the coming years,” Reporters Without Borders said.
Reporters Without Borders also reminds the president of the statements in support of press freedom that he has made on many occasions, including a meeting with a Reporters Without Borders representative in October 2008.
“It is quite normal for journalists and privately-owned media to side with a candidate before and during a democratic election but it is unacceptable for them to the victims of reprisals once the elections are over,” the press freedom organisation added.
Police and unidentified groups have been targeting the media, especially media that supported the leading opposition candidate, Gen. Sarath Fonseka, every since the announcement of the result, which some opposition sectors including Fonseka are disputing. Sri Lanka’s five main journalists’ organisations have issued a joint statement condemning the “post-election media suppression.”
The following serious press freedom violations have been reported:
1. Police today arrested Chandana Sirimalwatta, the editor of Lanka, a newspaper that supports the JVP opposition party, after he responded to a summons for questioning about an article published on 26 January. The president’s brother, defence minister Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, threatened to burn the newspaper down a few days ago.
2. Plain-clothes men using a car with the license plate 32/ 84 32 placed seals yesterday evening over the entrance to the office of the Lankaenews website. Men searched the office earlier in the day. The website itself has been rendered inaccessible for the past few days by the state telecommunications company Sri Lanka Telecom.
3. In an interview for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror newspaper yesterday, Tamil government minister Douglas Devananda threatened the Jaffna-based newspaper Uthayan with unspecified reprisals.
4. Reporter Karin Wenger of the Swiss public radio station DRS is facing possible deportation on 1 February following the withdrawal of her press accreditation. “I had a visa and accreditation that were valid for the election,” she told Reporters Without Borders. “I think this decision is linked to the questions I asked an official during a news conference after the results were announced.” A presidential adviser referred to her insultingly as a “white face.”
5. Ravi Abewikrama, a reporter with state radio broadcaster SLBC was attacked yesterday by one of the station’s officials for criticising the biased election coverage imposed by the head of the station.
6. Soldiers took up position on 26 January around and inside the buildings that house two privately-owned TV stations, Sirasa and Swarnavahini, in Colombo.
7. Soldiers roughed up photographers working for foreign news agencies when they tried to attend a news conference given by Gen. Fonseka yesterday. One was forced to delete the photos on his camera’s memory card. Soldiers also prevented journalists from working freely near a hotel being used by Fonseka the previous day.
Reporters Without Borders finally also urges President Rajapaksa to assign more police officers to the search for political reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who has been missing since 24 January. His family has had no news of him since that date.