Since the resumption of armed conflict in Sri Lanka in 2006, threats to the media and media freedom have become very serious.
At least 10 media workers have been unlawfully killed since the beginning of 2006 (including journalist Subramaniyam Sugirdharajan, pictured right). Another has allegedly disappeared in the custody of the security forces, while others have been tortured and arbitrarily detained under emergency regulations granting the government sweeping powers.
Attempts to censor the media have increased with the collapse of the ceasefire between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The 2002 truce formally ended on 16 January 2008, following a unanimous cabinet vote.
The escalation in hostilities has inevitably led to increased human rights violations by all parties to the conflict and reduced protection for civilians including media professionals. Newspapers have been closed down, employees intimidated and attacked, and a website has been blocked.
In some cases attacks have been carried out by Tamil armed groups, apparently acting with the consent of the security forces. Amnesty International is unaware of any investigation that has led to the arrest and prosecution of those believed to be responsible for the killing of journalists and other media workers, including cases dating back to 1990.
On 27 December 2007, Labour Minister Mervyn Silva and his aides entered the offices of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation, where the Minister reportedly assaulted the news director, T.M.G. Chandrasekara.
The Minister was angered by the corporation’s decision not to telecast his speech at a rally in Matara, attended by President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The speech contained a number of indecent remarks. Employees at Rupavahini took the Minister hostage for nearly three hours after the alleged assault, demanding an apology.
A number of journalists in Sri Lanka have since received credible information that armed gangs have been ordered to threaten, harass and even kill them for their involvement in protests held in response to the behaviour of Labour Minister Mervyn Silva.
The official radio station of the LTTE, Voice of Tigers, in the northern province of Vanni, was bombed on 27 November 2007 by the Sri Lanka Air Force. Nine people were killed in the attack, which seriously injured 10 others. The attack coincided with the station’s broadcast of LTTE War Heroes’ Day celebrations.
On 20 November 2007, the Leader publications office was attacked by an armed group. Police said the masked men had forced employees to kneel down while they poured petrol on the printing presses and set them on fire.
Staff at the Jaffna-based Uthayan newspaper have also come under attack from military and paramilitary groups, resulting in four deaths. Vadivel Nirmalarajan, a proofreader with the paper, has been reported missing since 17 November in what appears to be an enforced disappearance. Other newspapers where killings have taken place include Yal Thinakkural and Sudar Oli.
Sri Lanka: Silencing Dissent (Report, 7 February 2008)