Sri Lankan media workers want probes into reporter killings

Activists decry lack of justice as journalists continue to be killed or disappear
Sri Lankan media workers want probes into reporter killings

Sri Lankan media activists hold a vigil at a Black January protest at the Lipton Circle in Colombo. (UCA News photo)

Media professionals are pressuring the government to take action on the killing and disappearance of journalists in Sri Lanka.

Six media collectives organized an open forum and a vigil in Colombo on Jan. 28.

There were 138 cases of attacks on journalists and media institutes during the past decade and, according to the International Committee to Protect Journalists, 16 journalists and media workers have been killed since 2005. All these cases remain unsolved.

Dharmasiri Lankapeli, secretary of the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union, said the country should move forward together to protect media professionals.

"An environment where journalists can carry on their profession freely has yet to be created in this country. Most of the deaths of these journalists were organized crimes," said Lankapeli during an address to media professionals at the forum at Sri Lanka Press Institute.

Lankapeli said journalists are still not allowed to carry out their work and they are unsafe. “This is very unfortunate as a country.”

He said Batticaloa Tamil journalists are unsafe today and those who threaten them have yet to be identified. Several journalists were named and threatened with death in an anonymous leaflet delivered in Batticaloa last week.

"An immediate inquiry must be carried out regarding the threats faced by Batticaloa journalists. We consider such threats as a serious hindrance to journalists carrying out their professional activities. This is a serious threat to media freedom and democracy," said Lankapeli.

Black January

Impunity for crimes against journalists remains a frontline issue in Sri Lanka.

Among these crimes was the murder of Prageeth Ekneligoda, who disappeared on Jan. 24, 2010, in Colombo, two days before the presidential election, for which he was campaigning against then-president Mahinda Rajapaksa.

January is a month of remembrance for many journalists as it marks the time when many of them were killed or disappeared. The month is called Black January.

In January 2009, Lasantha Wickrematunge, a veteran journalist, was shot dead in broad daylight on a public highway, a few hundred meters from a security checkpoint.

Tamil journalist Subramaniyam Sugitharajah took photos of the bodies of five Tamil students who were suspected to have been murdered by the Sri Lankan army. Sugitharajah was shot and killed on his way to work on Jan, 24, 2006, the day the photos were published.

Due to these incidents, the Federation of Media Employers Trade Union, the Free Media Movement, the Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association, the Sri Lanka Muslim Forum, the Sri Lanka Young Journalists Association and the Tamil Media Alliance organized events to mark Black January.

Ramani Muttetuwegama, a member of the Human Rights Commission, said all parties should all work together to protect the rights of journalists. "No justice has been brought to bear for all these crimes to date," said Muttetuwegama.

Duminda Sampath, president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association, said people who have attacked journalists remain unpunished.

"They feel free to repeat the same crime against journalists," said Sampath. "If justice and fairness are not served to journalists, then justice will not be served to civil society. We stand up for the journalists of the past and for the journalists of tomorrow."

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