Colombo Telegraph

WikiLeaks: Four journalists came to Embassy

“Since the Government’s victory against the LTTE, GSL officials have begun openly criticizing journalists that it claims were on the LTTE payroll. Public comments by the Army Commander and Inspector General of Police have heightened concerns among journalists for their safety. Since May 26, four journalists have come to the Embassy to relay their concerns for their safety and to request Embassy assistance.” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.

Dharmasiri told us he desired to stay in Sri Lanka, but would like assistance in paying for a safe house.

The Colombo Telegraph found the leaked cable from the WikiLeak database. The cable is classified as “CONFIDENTIAL” and discuses the media suppression situation just after winning the war against LTTE. The cable was written on June 5, 2009 by the Charge D’Affaires James R. Moore.

The Charge D’Affaires wrote “Beginning on May 27, the Sri Lankan press reported widely comments made by Army Commander Fonseka and the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Jayantha Wickramaratne. Both stated that LTTE cadres now in custody had disclosed the names of journalists who were funded by the LTTE. General Fonseka claimed that most were Sinhalese, some were members of organizations advocating greater media freedom, and some had secret meetings with the LTTE. Both Fonseka and Wickramaratne labeled the journalists as traitors and said that action would be taken against them.”

Under the subheading “YOUNG JOURNALIST REPORTS SURVEILLANCE; FLEES” James wrote “In the overheated climate engendered by the officials’ comments, several journalists and members of media organizations expressed to Embassy officers heightened concerns for their personal safety. On May 26, Ruan Pethiyagoda of the Sunday Leader communicated to Emboffs that he was being followed and had gone into hiding. Pethiyagoda had received threats recently after Sri Lankan Government officials learned he was researching a story that involved allegations of corruption on the part of Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa in large armed forces procurement transactions. Pethiyagoda worked closely with Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader, who was slain in January 2009. As Pethiyagoda is an Australian dual national, Emboffs contacted an Australian High Commission officer about the case, who accompanied Pethiyagoda to the airport on May. He is now safely outside of Sri Lanka.”

Pethiyagoda had received threats recently after Sri Lankan Government officials learned he was researching a story that involved allegations of corruption on the part of Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa in large armed forces procurement transactions.

James wrote “On May 29, Rosanne Anderson of the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Lankapeli Dharmasiri of FMETU, and Poddala Jayantha of the Sri Lankan Working Journalists Association met with PAO to discuss their concerns about the statements made by the Army Commander and the IGP. The three journalists expressed fears for their own safety. In particular, they were worried that statements by the Army Commander and the IGP would engender a new wave of violence against journalists by ultranationalist gangs and thugs. The journalists specifically requested assistance in getting Jayantha and his family out of the country. Jayantha had left the country several months ago with support from an EU “Safety Fund” for journalists and human rights defenders, but returned recently because of concerns about his family’s security.

Finally, following the meeting, Anderson shared with PAO that she had applied for asylum in Australia. Later, she sent PAO an e-mail requesting asylum in the United States.Post assesses that the threat against Ms. Anderson is less severe.

Dharmasiri told PAO that he did not want to leave, explaining that he was one of the lone media advocates remaining in Sri Lanka and wanted to continue his efforts in the country. He requested Embassy assistance to increase security. Finally, following the meeting, Anderson shared with PAO that she had applied for asylum in Australia. Later, she sent PAO an e-mail requesting asylum in the United States.”

“Dharmasiri told us he desired to stay in Sri Lanka, but would like assistance in paying for a safe house. Post will connect Dharmasiri with Internews concerning a safety fund grant to pay for lodging. Post assesses that the threat against Ms. Anderson is less severe, and will await the outcome of her pending application for asylum in Australia before seeking travel funds for her.” he further wrote.

Under the subheading “DEFENSE JOURNALIST AGAIN FLEES COUNTRY” Charge D’Affaires James R. Moore wrote  “Military affairs analyst Iqbal Athas ceased writing his regular column for the Sunday Times (Colombo) several months ago because of fears of reprisals. He had sought safe haven abroad on several previous occasions, but returned to Sri Lanka and lived in hiding. Athas became fearful after the attack on Poddala Jayantha, telling told Pol Chief that he was being followed by men on motorcycles. On June 2, Athas again fled abroad.”

Under the subheading “ABDUCTION AND BEATING OF MEDIA ACTIVIST” charge wrote “On the evening of June 1, Jayantha was abducted and beaten by unknown assailants after getting off a bus, on his way home from work. Jayantha suffered two fractures to his left leg. Jayantha told PAO that the assailants shaved his hair and stuffed it in his mouth to muffle his screams. They shoved the hair so deeply that it protruded from his nose. Jayantha underwent surgery on June 3rd. According to Jayantha, doctors told him he would be hospitalized for two weeks and that recovery would take three months.”

Under the section “EMBASSY RESPONSE” James wrote “Since the May 29th meeting, Post is working to assist the three threatened journalists. Embassy continues to press senior Government of Sri Lanka officials to promote and protect media freedom.

On June 2, following the attack on Jayantha, CDA Moore spoke with Presidential Advisor Basil Rajapaksa. Charge expressed his concern at the most recent assault on a journalist. He reminded Basil that Ambassador Blake, in his farewell call, encouraged the Government to focus on reconciliation and human rights following its military victory against the Tamil Tigers. Charge stressed that the attack on Jayantha was possibly a result of the IGP’s May 29 public announcement that journalists accused of taking payments from the LTTE would be punished. Basil responded that ‘the public’ is angry that journalists may have been on the LTTE’s payroll, saying the government could not control these passions. Charge countered that if that is the case, it is a result of the IGP’s announcement and the images that were aired at the time. Basil xpressed some sympathy for Podalla, noting that he previously worked in the media unit of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party. Basil said members of the President’s staff visited Jayantha in the hospital.

Basil expressed some sympathy for Podalla, noting that he previously worked in the media unit of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party.

However, Basil stopped short of making a firm commitment to provide security for Jayantha and his family, but did say ‘we are trying to see if he can be moved and provided security.’”

Placing a comment Charge D’Affaires James R. Moore  “The GSL’s victory has emboldened Sinhalese nationalists. As the most recent intemperate statements against journalists indicate, it appears that the Government intends to continue chauvinistic rhetoric it believes will maintain its support among this key constituency. Post expects the media will continue to feel threatened and inclined toward self-censorship. Newspapers such as the Daily Mirror that previously supported the political opposition in their editorial stance, have increasingly become echoes of the government-owned press. Even the outspoken Sunday Leader has muted it anti-government stance and has muted its crusading tone, shying away from the aggressive investigative journalism that was its hallmark. We expect that an increasing number of journalists will come to the Embassy and other foreign missions for support and protection. For many of them, there appear to be few viable alternatives to fleeing the country, at least temporarily. Those who return may find that the threat against them has not diminished, as Jayantha’s case shows.”

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 COLOMBO 000596

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INSB

E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/04/2019
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KPAO CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: MORE THREATS TO AND ATTACKS ON
JOURNALISTS

Classified By: CHARGE D'AFFAIRES JAMES R. MOORE, FOR REASONS 1.4 (B) AN
D (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: Since the Government's victory against the
LTTE, GSL officials have begun openly criticizing journalists
that it claims were on the LTTE payroll.  Public comments by
the Army Commander and Inspector General of Police have
heightened concerns among journalists for their safety. Since
May 26, four journalists have come to the Embassy to relay
their concerns for their safety and to request Embassy
assistance. One of those journalists, Poddala Jayantha, was
later attacked on June 1 by unknown assailants. The Embassy
continues to explore mechanisms to support journalists who
are under threat, and is pushing the Government of Sri Lanka
to ensure their safety and desist from making comments that
could incite continued violence.  End summary.

OFFICIALS' COMMENTS CREATE OVERHEATED ATMOSPHERE
--------------------------------------------- ---

2. (C) Beginning on May 27, the Sri Lankan press reported
widely comments made by Army Commander Fonseka and the
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Jayantha Wickramaratne.
Both stated that LTTE cadres now in custody had disclosed the
names of journalists who were funded by the LTTE.  General
Fonseka claimed that most were Sinhalese, some were members
of organizations advocating greater media freedom, and some
had secret meetings with the LTTE. Both Fonseka and
Wickramaratne labeled the journalists as traitors and said
that action would be taken against them.

3. (C) Among the reports, the state-owned television station
ITN carried a report on the Inspector General's comments on
its May 28th broadcast. While ITN reported the Inspector
General's remarks, it broadcast images of protests, meetings,
and gatherings of media trade unions and advocacy
organizations.  The camera zoomed in on the faces of
individual members and leaders of those groups.

YOUNG JOURNALIST REPORTS SURVEILLANCE; FLEES
--------------------------------------------

4. (C) In the overheated climate engendered by the officials'
comments, several journalists and members of media
organizations expressed to Embassy officers heightened
concerns for their personal safety.  On May 26, Ruan
Pethiyagoda of the Sunday Leader communicated to Emboffs that
he was being followed and had gone into hiding.  Pethiyagoda
had received threats recently after Sri Lankan Government
officials learned he was researching a story that involved
allegations of corruption on the part of Defense Secretary
Gothabaya Rajapaksa in large armed forces procurement
transactions. Pethiyagoda worked closely with Lasantha
Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader, who was slain in
January 2009. As Pethiyagoda is an Australian dual national,
Emboffs contacted an Australian High Commission officer about
the case, who accompanied Pethiyagoda to the airport on May
27. He is now safely outside of Sri Lanka.

5. (C) On May 29, Rosanne Anderson of the Federation of Media
Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Lankapeli Dharmasiri of FMETU,
and Poddala Jayantha of the Sri Lankan Working Journalists
Association met with PAO to discuss their concerns about the
statements made by the Army Commander and the IGP. The three
journalists expressed fears for their own safety. In
particular, they were worried that statements by the Army
Commander and the IGP would engender a new wave of violence
against journalists by ultranationalist gangs and thugs. The
journalists specifically requested assistance in getting
Jayantha and his family out of the country. Jayantha had left
the country several months ago with support from an EU
"Safety Fund" for journalists and human rights defenders, but
returned recently because of concerns about his family's
security.  Dharmasiri told PAO that he did not want to leave,

COLOMBO 00000596  002 OF 003

explaining that he was one of the lone media advocates
remaining in Sri Lanka and wanted to continue his efforts in
the country. He requested Embassy assistance to increase
security.  Finally, following the meeting, Anderson shared
with PAO that she had applied for asylum in Australia. Later,
she sent PAO an e-mail requesting asylum in the United
States.

ABDUCTION AND BEATING OF MEDIA ACTIVIST
---------------------------------------

6. (C) On the evening of June 1, Jayantha was abducted and
beaten by unknown assailants after getting off a bus, on his
way home from work. Jayantha suffered two fractures to his
left leg. Jayantha told PAO that the assailants shaved his
hair and stuffed it in his mouth to muffle his screams. They
shoved the hair so deeply that it protruded from his nose.
Jayantha underwent surgery on June 3rd. According to
Jayantha, doctors told him he would be hospitalized for two
weeks and that recovery would take three months.

7. (C) On June 2 Police arrested Lanka E-News editor Benette
Rupasinghe and publisher Sandaruwan Senadeera for possible
involvement in the attack. According to media contacts, Lanka
E-News, an online Sri Lankan news site, was the first to
report on the attack. Because the report was so soon after
the attack, police claimed they had suspicions the two
journalists might be involved, according to the media
contacts. Rupasinghe and Senadeera were released after
posting bail.

DEFENSE JOURNALIST AGAIN FLEES COUNTRY
--------------------------------------

8. (C) Military affairs analyst Iqbal Athas ceased writing
his regular column for the Sunday Times (Colombo) several
months ago because of fears of reprisals.  He had sought safe
haven abroad on several previous occasions, but returned to
Sri Lanka and lived in hiding.  Athas became fearful after
the attack on Poddala Jayantha, telling told Pol Chief that
he was being followed by men on motorcycles.  On June 2,
Athas again fled abroad.

EMBASSY RESPONSE
----------------

9. (C) Since the May 29th meeting, Post is working to assist
the three threatened journalists.  Embassy continues to press
senior Government of Sri Lanka officials to promote and
protect media freedom. On June 2, following the attack on
Jayantha, CDA Moore spoke with Presidential Advisor Basil
Rajapaksa.  Charge expressed his concern at the most recent
assault on a journalist.  He reminded Basil that Ambassador
Blake, in his farewell call, encouraged the Government to
focus on reconciliation and human rights following its
military victory against the Tamil Tigers. Charge stressed
that the attack on Jayantha was possibly a result of the
IGP's May 29 public announcement that journalists accused of
taking payments from the LTTE would be punished.  Basil
responded that "the public" is angry that journalists may
have been on the LTTE's payroll, saying the government could
not control these passions.  Charge countered that if that is
the case, it is a result of the IGP's announcement and the
images that were aired at the time.  Basil xpressed some
sympathy for Podalla, noting that he previously worked in the
media unit of the Sri Lankan Freedom Party.  Basil said
members of the President's staff visited Jayantha in the
hospital.  However, Basil stopped short of making a firm
commitment to provide security for Jayantha and his family,
but did say "we are trying to see if he can be moved and
provided security."

10. (C) On June 3, PAO met with Sam de Silva of Internews
(protect).  Internews, an NGO tasked with developing

COLOMBO 00000596  003.2 OF 003

independent media in Sri Lanka, has now taken over managing
the "Safety Fund" for journalists with support from EU member
states.  De Silva said that Internews planned to resume
biweekly meetings of members of the diplomatic missions that
have provided support to journalists under threat with the
goal of better coordinating responses.  De Silva was aware of
Jayantha's case and had been in contact with him indirectly
since the attack through another interlocutor. (Note:
Internews provided funding to Jayantha through the safety
fund that enabled Jayantha to leave the country in January.)
De Silva reported that Jayantha expressed desire to leave the
country with his family as soon as he is able to travel, and
asked Embassy to assist with the funding to enable his wife
and daughter to travel with him, since the "Safety Fund" does
not cover dependents. Internews will also work on finding a
European country to host them.  Regarding the other two
journalists, Dharmasiri told us he desired to stay in Sri
Lanka, but would like assistance in paying for a safe house.
Post will connect Dharmasiri with Internews concerning a
safety fund grant to pay for lodging.  Post assesses that the
threat against Ms. Anderson is less severe, and will await
the outcome of her pending application for asylum in
Australia before seeking travel funds for her.

11. (C) COMMENT: The GSL's victory has emboldened Sinhalese
nationalists. As the most recent intemperate statements
against journalists indicate, it appears that the Government
intends to continue chauvinistic rhetoric it believes will
maintain its support among this key constituency.  Post
expects the media will continue to feel threatened and
inclined toward self-censorship.  Newspapers such as the
Daily Mirror that previously supported the political
opposition in their editorial stance, have increasingly
become echoes of the government-owned press.  Even the
outspoken Sunday Leader has muted it anti-government stance
and has muted its crusading tone, shying away from the
aggressive investigative journalism that was its hallmark.
We expect that an increasing number of journalists will come
to the Embassy and other foreign missions for support and
protection.  For many of them, there appear to be few viable
alternatives to fleeing the country, at least temporarily.
Those who return may find that the threat against them has
not diminished, as Jayantha's case shows.
MOORE

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