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Sri Lanka Special Report: Failure to Investigate

By Bob Dietz
Asia Programme Coordinator
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

As the Sri Lankan government steps up its war with the LTTE, assaults on journalists are on the rise. So are suspicions that the government is complicit in these attacks.

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka’s journalists are under intensive assault. Authorities have failed to carry out effective and credible investigations into the killings of journalists who question the government’s conduct of  war against Tamil separatists or criticise the military establishment.

Three attacks in January targeting the mainstream media drew the world’s attention to the problem, but top journalists have been killed, attacked, threatened, and harassed since the government began to pursue an all-out military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in late 2006. Many local and foreign journalists and members of the diplomatic community believe the government is complicit in the attacks.

The lack of credible investigations into these crimes is in keeping with a long history of impunity for those who attack journalists in Sri Lanka. With a failure to investigate and a realistic suspicion that government actors are complicit in the violence against journalists, the time has come for the international community to act.

Three attacks

On January 6, on a quiet road on the outskirts of Colombo, the country’s main independently owned TV station, (Sirasa TV) was raided by 15 to 20 masked armed men working with military precision, at 2:05 a.m. At 2:35:31 they detonated an explosion, possibly a claymore mine, a military-style antipersonnel mine set off by an electrical charge through wires leading to the device.

The room’s two synchronised clocks both stopped at the time of the explosion. The attackers fired the weapon after stringing the detonating wire about 200 yards (183 metres) from the control room through the station’s corridors to the driveway outside the station’s main front door, according to Sirasa staff.

Staff shied away from describing the weapon specifically to CPJ after one of them had identified it as a claymore in an internationally broadcast interview with CNN on the morning of the attack. Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse denounced that staffer as a “terrorist” during a January 7, interview with the government-run Independent Television Network (ITN).

Other knowledgeable sources with military experience who visited the station told CPJ that the damage was consistent with that of a claymore. The explosion wiped out the recently upgraded main control room that kept the broadcaster’s three TV channels and four radio stations on the air. At 6 a.m. on the day of the full attack, Sirasa was broadcasting live shots of the wreckage to early morning viewers — staff had patched together some of the old analog broadcasting equipment.

Indicative of the government’s connection

Claymores are regularly used by both sides in the country’s civil war, the government and the LTTE, but the government has denied that the weapon was a claymore mine and strongly denied involvement in the attack; the reaction has been interpreted by critics as indicative of the government’s connection. Continue reading

March 29, 2009 Posted by | Hot News from Lanka | , | Leave a comment