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In: Signature Tune Begin

Anchor 1

Hello. You’re listening to Panoscope, a fortnightly radio magazine produced by


Panos Radio South Asia. In this edition of Panoscope we focus on the escalating
attacks on media houses and journalists in Sri Lanka. Intimidation of journalists is
not new in Sri Lanka. But current trends are alarming. This situation was
highlighted during U-N High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour’s
October visit to Sri Lanka. She noted the absence of the rule of law and the
violations of human rights in the country. Journalists disappear without a trace.
They are often arrested without charges, abducted or found dead.

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Anchor 2

Twenty-three-year-old Arthur Warmanan (WAH-MA-NAAN) of the Sunday


Leader was detained recently. His charge: writing a story alleging a minister’s
misuse of state funds to pay his wife’s telephone bills. The journalist was taken in
for questioning with the minister alleging that Wamaman had tried to blackmail
him. Wamaman, an ethnic Tamil, was also prevented from making his statement
to the police in Tamil or in English. He was forced to make it in Sinhala.

The National Peace Council is appalled that government officials should seek to
harass media personnel and their families on grounds of ethnicity. The
suspension of license to A-B-C, a popular radio network with five radio stations in
the Sinhala, Tamil and English is another blow to media freedom.

More than 15 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 1999 and seven of
them killed in 2006 are from the war-torn north. Two journalists are on the
‘missing’ list. Three have been arrested. Twelve have been attacked. At least
three journalists have fled the country. One thread binds them all: They dared to
investigate and write on corruption, drug trafficking and the ethnic conflict.
Panoscope Correspondent Krishni Ifham files this report from Sri Lanka.

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Anchor 3

Minority communities in the North and East are the worst hit.

Recently, senior journalists have also become targets: Vithiyadharan (VEE-


THIYA-DHA-RAN), Chief Editor of Tamil publications Sodar Oli and Udayan
(UDA-YAN), Lasantha Wickramathunga (WICK-RAMA-THUNGA), Editor of the
Sunday Leader, Iqbal Athas (ATH-THAS), Defence correspondent of the Sunday
Times have all been issued serious warnings. Iqbal Athas was threatened by
protesters in front of his residence after he exposed corruption in the purchase
on MiG-27 fighter jets. The government retaliated by removing Athas’s security
cover. Athas had this to say…

Act 1, Iqbal Athas.mp3 (M - In English)

In August, this year I had occasion to report on the Sri Lankan government’s
purchase of four MiG-27 fighter jets from Ukraine. Now, in respect of the
procurements of four MiG-27 aircraft on the 12th of August I reported in The
Sunday Times that even the government of Ukraine had commenced
investigation as to why monies from the sale of four fighter jets did not arrive in
that country.

In May 2005, I returned to Sri Lanka from Hong Kong and the police chief at that
time told me that there was a threat on my life. Journalist Dharmaratnam Sivaram
had been killed and intelligence reports had spoken of moves by the Tamil Tiger
rebels to avenge that killing by assassinating me. At that time, I was given a
guard of army commandos. They remained with me until I criticized the army in
one of my articles. Then the protection was withdrawn.

My personal experience should not be viewed as the travails of only one


individual. The issues that are related to my own problems reflect the conditions
under which the Sri Lankan media is functioning. But the fact that the state has
become a party to intimidating the media and even in some instances by their
inactiveness in investigating those responsible for abducting and even killing
journalists, a dangerous situation exists in Sri Lanka.

Anchor 4

Tamil Journalists face an even more pathetic situation since 2001.

K-P Mohan, Defence correspondent for Colombo based Tamil daily “Thinakkural
(THINA-KU-RAL)” was attacked several times by the security forces. Recently,
acid was thrown at him. He is still under treatment.

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Act 2, Mohan.mp3 (M- In Tamil)

During the last decade, I have faced several problems from the police and
security forces. In 2002, I was attacked by the Sri Lankan Air Force. However, so
far, neither the police nor any law enforcement agency has taken any legal
action. If we take legal action against them, they will intimidate us. My family has
left my house and now live in different places to avoid trouble.
Anchor 5

The security forces, the L-T-T-E, Karuna faction, and the paramilitary groups are
threatening journalists, especially in the North and East provinces. Renewed
violence against journalists has become routine. The President and other
government leaders have on many occasions have called journalists, who
express their frank and sincere views, traitors. Sunanda Deshapriya (DESH-
AHA-PRIYA) of the Free Media Movement has to say this…

Act 3, Sunanda 1.mp3 (M - In English)

Media in Sri Lanka is aptly described by the report of the international mission
which came to Sri Lanka in October 2006. Its title is Struggle for Survival… There
has been a real struggle if you look at the situation in the North and East.

Batticaloa is another Jaffna, in Batticaloa you don’t find any experienced


journalist today. All of them had left the city because of threats from many sides.
Journalists in Trincomalee and Ampara are also facing a really difficult situation.
L-T-T-E, Karuna faction, government military forces everyone wants journalists to
write as they want.

Anchor 6

The government says it is encouraging free media and respects it. But actions of
some ministers prove to be contrary. Health and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala
(SIRI-PAALA) De Silva has compared journalists to rabid dogs and said that
drastic regulations should be introduced to control them. These comments were
expressed after journalists exposed major frauds in their ministries.

Daily Mirror Editor Ms. Champika Liyanarachchi (LIYA-NARA-CHI) was


personally threatened and intimidated by Colonel Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (RAJA-
PAK-SHE), the Defence Secretary, who is also President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s
brother.

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Anchor 7

Several Tamil news papers and magazines had been burnt. Newspaper agents
have been threatened against distributing Tamil newspapers. Offices of some
newspapers have been ransacked and burnt, while others have been bombed.
These incidents caused immense hardships to journalists to carry out their
duties.

Scarcity of printing material in Jaffna peninsula has seriously hampered printing


activities in the district. Newspaper companies have drastically reduced the
number of newsprints. Due to the scarcity, newspapers pasted on walls have
become a common sight in most of the areas in the North and the East.
Vithiatharan (VEE-THIA-THARAN), chief editor of Udayan, the Jaffna based
Tamil daily, and the Tamil weekly Sodar Oli says:

Act 5, Vithiatharan1.mp3 (M - In Tamil)

Our office was targeted by the Sri Lankan Air force bombers and attacked. We
lost one of our employees in this attack and another employee lost his legs and
hands. Our machinery were also damaged. Our office was sealed by the Sri
Lankan government. We filed a case in the courts and re-opened our office
through a court order. The ‘Sodar Oli’ newspaper office in Colombo came
under a bomb attack. It is a great loss for us. We have lost eight to nine
employees during the last two years.

There is a necessity to print the newspapers in Jaffna. There are number of


restrictions in taking news prints to Jaffna. There are so many controls
imposed to prevent taking news prints to Jaffna. The Udayan newspaper has
taken action to limit print order from 25,000 to lesser unreasonable amount. The
paper also cut down the news pages from 20 pages to eight pages. The scarcity
of news print had increased due to these unlimited controls imposed by the
authorities. There is a difficult situation in bringing raw materials for the printing
industry in Jaffna.

Anchor 8

The Sri Lanka Press Institute is very concerned about this grave situation. They
have now undertaken many activities aimed at safeguarding the lives of
journalists. Ranga Kalansooriya (KALAN-SURYA), Director General of the Sri
Lanka Press Institute explains.

Act 6, Ranga 1.mp3 (M – In English)

S-L-P-I is getting lot of complaints, lot of inquiries, lot requests from journalists,
media professionals about the safety and the attacks on the media houses. First
the responses by the S-L-P-I are two-fold. One is first we analyze these threats
and also intimidation and also we do some other coordinating work with other
media organizations especially the Free Media Movement and we are working
very closely with the Free Media Movement that works very hard on this issue.
The other fold is safety funds are that the providing safety for journalists through
implementing some allocated funds… Sri Lanka Press Institute is very much
concerned about this situation.

Anchor 9
Legal, administrative and economic pressures amount to torture. However, cases
relating to these are still not finalized by the law enforcement authorities. No
suspects have so far been arrested in most cases.

The murder cases of Subramaniyam Sugirdharajan (SUGEER-DHA-RAJAN),


correspondent for the Tamil daily "Sudar Oli" in Trincomalee, the case of Sinhala
journalist Sampath Lakmal found dead in Colombo, Sinnathamby (SINHA-THAM-
BEE) Sivamaharajah (SHIVA-MAHARA-JAH), editor of a Tamil nationalist
newspaper shot dead at his Jaffna home, Nimalarajan of B-B-C, Nadesan of
Veerakesari, Tamilnet Editor and correspondent Dharmeratnam (DHAR-MEH-
RATNAM) Sivaram. The list just goes on…

But, the government maintains an indifferent silence. Lasantha Wikramatunga,


the Editor of Sunday Leader, recollects the tales of horror he has faced since his
paper rolled off the press.

Act 7, Lasantha 2. mp3 (M – In English)

For example, I was assaulted in 1995. My vehicle was smashed. I ended up in


hospital. In 1998, an armed gang came and opened fire at my residence and
emptied over 40 bullets into my house. In 2000, my newspaper office was sealed
by the then government stating that we have violated the emergency regulations
by defying the censorship laws which was introduced that time. There have been
criminal prosecutions against us launched by the government.

Anchor 10

Sri Lanka’s reputation in the international arena will soon bite the dust if the
government continues to curb media freedom and journalists’ disappearances…
killings continue. Such acts make citizens’ rights to information in a democracy a
sham. Parliamentarian Tissa (TISHA) Attanayake (ATTA-NAYA-KE), who is also
the General Secretary of the main Opposition Party, United National Party
says…

Act 8, Tissa Attanayake.mp3 (M - In Sinhala)

When we talk about the media freedom in Sri Lanka it is indeed very sad. There
are number of threats faced by the media during the past one and half years,
two–year period. When considering attacks on media persons, abductions, it is
hard to believe that media freedom exists in Sri Lanka. The classic example
being when reported against government or written a word critical about the
President, especially stating President’s name had become fearful, the reason
being unnecessary involvement on media and adding pressure on the media
houses by the government. Within last year around seven to eight journalists
were killed, likewise number of other journalists were threatened. To protect the
democratic right of the public media freedom is a must. It is a serious offence
when someone tries to grab the right to know information. We witnessed recently
on how the government threatened editors. What we see today is that this
government doesn’t care about media freedom for five cents. Government takes
the law into the hands to pressurize, threaten journalists when bribery and
corruption is exposed.

Sri Lankan government, after some recent military victory over the Tamil rebels,
believes that a military solution to its historic ethnic conflict is possible. It has
closed the doors on the international mediators led by Scandinavians. It has
launched a three pronged war: from the land, from the sea and from the sky. In
war, truth is not the only casualty. Even journalists lives are reduced to ‘collateral
damage.’

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Anchor 11

That’s it for this edition of Panoscope. Thanks for listening.

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Panoscope is an independent production of Panos Radio South Asia. We’re


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