By Mangala Samaraweera –
In present day Sri Lanka it has become customary for whispers and speculation of impending elections to be followed up by brutal onslaughts on what remains of the country’s free press. It is a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate the media into silence ahead of crucial polls about the crimes and lapses of a completely corrupt incumbency.
It is not surprising therefore that a dangerous trend is being set, commencing with twin attacks on the Uthayan newspaper publishing in the country’s north in the space of less than a month and followed up with a threat against the Sirasa Media Network. Neither media organisation is a stranger to devastating and debilitating attacks against them; attacks that have only increased in brutality and impunity in recent years. Each time they are struck, the organisations and personnel find the strength to pick up the pieces and carry on. We salute their courage and commitment to their professional duty.
We call upon the Government to ensure the safety of the premises, equipment and personnel of the Sirasa Media network and the Uthayan newspaper. For too long the incumbent regime has left questions unanswered about repeated and debilitating attacks on this country’s Fourth Estate. Scribe killers, white vans and armed groups terrorising media institutions have roamed outside the ambit of the law for long enough. It is a travesty that as such crimes against the nation’s free press go unpunished, the Government’s law enforcement arm remains exclusively preoccupied with brutally quelling garbage disputes in Colombo’s low income neighbourhoods or attacking peaceful demonstrators protesting against the meteoric rise of extremist groups that are sowing hate and discord between communities of people in this country.
We reiterate that this consistent assault on independent media institutions is a gross infringement of the people’s fundamental right to free expression and impedes their right to information and condemn this culture of intimidation and suppression unreservedly.
That a campaign to suppress dissent is underway is crystal clear. Its mission is to wipe out the last vestiges of the independent media in the country and rob the people, perhaps permanently, of their right to information. Let those who attempt to terrorize the media remember that every successive attack will not only unify the media against the ruling powers, but also galvanize all sections of the opposition to join the fight against a common enemy. I call upon all media institutions to shed their differences and stand together in the unequivocal condemnation of this latest threat against Sirasa and Uthayan in the knowledge that while today it might be their turn, the suppression will not end until each and every newspaper, radio station and television station is effectively silenced and subjugated.