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Journalist attacked – a civil society organisation threatened and a provocative campaign against freedom of expression continues

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

(June 02, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Poddala Jayantha was abducted yesterday (June 1), and was later found with head and leg injuries. He is now undergoing treatment in a hospital.

Mr. Jayantha is the General Secretary of the Working Journalists Association and there were earlier attempts to abduct him from his home which he narrowly escaped due to the intervention of family members and neighbours.

This latest attack comes in the wake of a provocative campaign in which the army commander, as well as the Inspector General of Police, has made incendiary remarks which link the critics of the government to the LTTE. Both television and media publicity has been given over to allegations that some journalists have been in the pay of the LTTE. However, no names have been revealed and no cases filed. Such remarks have ignited some groups who, in a situation of euphoria created after the assassination of the LTTE leaders, are being permitted to engage in acts of violence against anyone that is identified as unpatriotic.

President Mahinda RajapaksaAt the same time of the attack on Mr. Jayantha, a group of journalist was talking to the president of Sri Lanka complaining about the attacks on the media. The President was then informed of the attack on Mr. Jayantha and his response to the news was to call upon the Inspector General of Police and request investigations. This is a typical response of the president after any attack on journalists. While he makes a public relations gesture of disassociating himself with the attacks and calling for investigations he has failed, so far, to send a strong message as the head of the state to the armed forces and the police to stop the campaign against journalists. The result is that his public statement condemning the attacks is not taken seriously by the law enforcement agencies or by the public. Tacit encouragement for provocative campaigns and attacks on the media and all others who freely express their views continue unabated.

There is a permissive atmosphere to engage in acts of violence. The jubilation over the assassination of the LTTE leaders is now being manipulated to silence all dissent, particularly that in the south. Provocative posters against the leader of the opposition asking him to leave the country are being exhibited in Colombo and given wide publicity by the state media. The posters read, ‘Back Biter get out!’ and are accompanied by the opposition leader’s photographs. The accusation aims to attribute the source of the criticism made by the United Nations and other countries about alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka to the opposition leader. All criticism against human rights abuses in Sri Lanka is being portrayed as unpatriotic actions deserving serious punishment which implies attacks similar to that suffered by Mr. Jayantha.

Meanwhile, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a well known civil society organisation based in Colombo, received a warning letter from a group calling itself Sri Lankans Affectionate towards the Motherland, referring to the CPA and other organisations as conspirators who will be watched. The organisation was asked to close their office throughout the entire week parallel to the dates of honouring the warriors. The organisation was also asked to display a banner bestowing ‘your honour’ to the warriors; it was asked to donate Rs. 1,000,000/= to honour the warriors. Furthermore, the letter stated, "You should certainly stop all the programmes conducted by your institute which are detrimental to the sovereignty, unitary nature and dignity of this country". The letter ends with the following note: "Let us destroy conspirators. Let us march forward fearlessly. Let us protect Mother Lanka."

Previously letters were sent by an organisation calling itself the Mahason Balakaya, the Battalion of the Ghosts of Death, making similar threats to human rights organisations and lawyers.

All these activities are being done with the full knowledge of the government. As mentioned above, high ranking state officers and leaders of the forces, including the police, are among those who are taking an active part in these campaigns. Under these circumstances many groups such as covert police units, military cells or criminals can attack whoever they chose to.

In the recent times no similar incidents have lead to any serious investigations or prosecutions because the investigating capacity of the police has been paralysed by political interference. The lack of investigations is used as an excuse; it is said that the lack of evidence is the reason for not prosecuting cases. At the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka claimed that it has a functioning system of the administration of justice. This, however, is far from the truth. The system is entirely dysfunctional because of political interference. What is prevailing in the country today is the situation where every type of lawlessness is possible.

The Sri Lankan government lacks the capacity to investigate due to politicisation and lacks the political will to enforce rule of law.

Under these circumstances the citizens have no way to protect themselves. The groups that face the greatest danger naturally under these circumstances are those who express their views. Thus, the media and every other form of opposition are under enormous threat.

An extraordinary situation of violence is likely to develop, particularly in the south mobilised directly or indirectly by the ruling party itself with the support of some leaders of the armed forces and the police.

The citizens and the international community need to alert themselves to the dangerous situation that is developing and take whatever steps that are needed to avert this danger.
-Sri Lanka Guardian

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