Sri Lanka: Journalist assaulted, Photographer threatened and Editor sacked

Press release/ 30 Sep 2012

Mr. Prasad Purnimal, a provincial newspaper correspondent of the Puttalam District has been hospitalized after he was assaulted by security guards of the government hospital at Halawatha/Chilaw. 

Issuing a statement on 29th September, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the local press freedom watch dog said that the assault on Purnimal  is one in the indications of  the on-going anti-media attitude of the hospital security staff.   This assault had taken place while a government Deputy Minister and Army Major of Halawatha (Chilaw) were there. The FMM’s statement says that even though several days have passed after the assault, the police have, as usual, not taken any steps to investigate the incident and no one has been arrested so far.

Prasad Purnimal is the Secretary of the Puttalam District Journalist’s Association and  the  local correspondent of the BBC Sinhala Service.

Journalist Purnimal has entered the hospital premises to report on the number of villagers who have been admitted to the hospital as a result of an attack by the police. The NfR considers this assault on Purnimal  as a direct attack on the  people’s right to information and journalist’s right to report on  incidents and events.

Another Journalist Nirmala Kannangara of The Lanka Standard has reported that her photographer was threatened and they had to delete photographs taken while covering the re-settled IPDs in the Vanni region.

On 27th and 28th Sep. both of them were stopped from entering the Suriyapuram camp in Nandikadal and threatened by the army officers on guard, asking them not to write anything detrimental to them.  The journalists and the photographer were covering the re-location of the last batch of IDPs from the Manik Farm.  According to reports these IDPs had been taken out of the Manik Farm on a promise that they were going to be re-settled in their own villages but had been brought to this camp.   One army officer had shouted at the journalist Kannangara who was there to cover this incident, asking her to    ‘mind  her own business’.

In the ensuing argument 15 army personnel had surrounded the photographer armed with assault rifles pointed at him.  He had been manhandled and attempts had been made to snatch his camera.   Sensing danger, the journalists had to delete the photographs in the camera, in the presence of the army personnel

NfR views this incident as another example of extensive militarisation of the Northern Province of Sri Lanka today.  Sri Lankan military is known for its high handed attitude towards independent media and this incident is another in the series of violation of media freedom and peoples’ right to information.

All these attacks and intimidations take place in Sri Lanka in a context of stranglehold   the government is having on the non-State media.   The most recent example in this regard is the sacking of Mrs. Fredrica Janz, the Editor of the Sunday Leader.  The media reported that after a major shares of the newspaper was  purchased by a  pro-government businessman, the editor was told to change its editorial stance and be more pro-government.   According to Janz, she didn’t agree to the control of the editorial by the newly appointed managing editor. Consequently she was sacked from the newspaper on 22nd September. That newspaper’s founding editor,  Lasantha Wikrametunga was killed by motor cycle riding killer squad on 8th January 2010.

On 24th September Mrs. Janz was questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department regarding the joke published in the Sunday Leader under the heading of ‘Shoot the President’.

NfR considers the sacking of Editor Fredrica Janz as a clear violation of editorial freedom and an indication of the government indirectly tightening the control of media. 

All these incidents show that even 3 years after the cessation of war and 10 months after the LLRC recommendations freedom of expression situation has not changed as expected and continue to be a serious concern. 


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