Sri Lanka: Secret list reveals government's media hit list

Journalist included in leaked secret service memo
 
A leaked list – believed to be compiled by the Sri Lankan intelligence unit – has revealed the names of 35 leading journalists and NGO officers of interest to the country’s secret services.

The list then grades each of them according to their importance to the intelligence services.

Amnesty International fears that the leak was a deliberate move by the government to intimidate and harass journalists in the country.

Mike Blakemore, Media Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“Such a blatant leak can have only one purpose and that is to intimidate those individuals on the list and deter anyone from speaking to them.

“Journalists are often at the forefront of protecting and defending individuals’ human rights. It is their bravery that can help expose abuses and bring them to an end.

“Sri Lanka needs to respect media freedom and allow human rights defenders to go about their work freely and without harassment.”

Amnesty International is calling on all its supporters to write to the Sri Lankan authorities expressing their concern for the safety and well-being of the 35 people on the list.

Two human rights defenders, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and J C Weliamuna, are at particular risk. 

Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Sri Lankan NGO, the Centre for Policy Alternatives, and J C Weliamuna, Sri Lanka director of international NGO Transparency International, have both been threatened previously and are graded as being of great interest to the intelligence services on the list. Other colleagues from their organisations are also named.

Background:

In September 2008, a grenade was thrown at the house of J C Weliamuna, damaging property but causing no injuries. That attack was thought to be in retaliation for his legal representation of clients in human rights cases where the Defence Ministry was implicated. Despite demands from local and international human rights groups, there was no credible inquiry into this attack.

An article on 20 February in the national daily newspaper, Sri Lanka Guardian, reporting on a meeting between President Mahinda Rajapaksa and a group of ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party lawyers, singled out J C Weliamuna, specifically, saying “something must be done about him”.

Meanwhile, Dr Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu received a death threat via an anonymous letter posted to his home in August 2009.

At least 14 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2006. Others have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and allegedly disappeared while in the custody of security forces. More than 20 journalists have left the country in response to death threats.  None of these attacks has been properly investigated or prosecuted.

Sri Lankan journalists have given Amnesty a list of 56 of their colleagues who face serious threats, including some working for the government-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, as well as the Independent Television Network, Lak Hada and the Lake House Group.

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