FCA, CPJ call on authorities to protect Sri Lankan journalists

The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka (FCA) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) have urged the authorities to protect journalists in Sri Lanka.

This was after the joint opposition, at a press conference, made statements against two leading Sri Lankan journalists, Dharisha Bastians and Arthur Wamanan.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on opposition politicians in Sri Lanka to stop trying to intimidate local journalists by publicly leveling accusations against them.

At a press conference this week, associates of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa accused two journalists for The New York Times of being tools of the current Government, the Times reported.

Rajapaksa on July 1 issued a statement disputing the findings of a June 25 Times investigative report alleging, among other points, that Chinese funds had flowed into Rajapaksa’s failed 2015 presidential campaign. The Times’ New Delhi-based South Asia correspondent, Maria Abi-Habib, penned the article with contributions from Sri Lanka journalists Dharisha Bastians and Arthur Wamanan.

Members of parliament, including Kanchana Wijesekera and Dullas Alahapperuma, at the press conference accused Bastians and Wamanan of being tools of the current Government, according to transcripts of the press conference published by GroundViews, a news website in Sri Lanka. One of the politicians showed a photo of Bastians to the camera, the Times said.

“Politicians have every right to dispute the findings of a news report, but publicly singling out Dharisha Bastians and Arthur Wamanan is a worrisome development in a country noted for attacks on journalists and unsolved journalist murders,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We call on all political parties in Sri Lanka to publicly affirm support for press freedom and journalists’ safety.”

During Rajapaksa’s decade in office from 2005 to 2015, 11 journalists were killed, including five who were targeted for murder and whose cases remain unsolved, according to CPJ research. Rajapaksa’s Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna party won heavily in local elections in February, according to news reports.

While Sri Lanka’s current Government has promised to take swift action to solve journalist murders, progress has been painstakingly slow, according to CPJ research. Police have complained that evidence in the murders was lost or destroyed under the previous government, creating obstacles to prosecution.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Sri Lanka (FCA) said it was deeply concerned about a campaign of intimidation directed against foreign journalists who contributed to a recent New York Times report on corruption in the island.

“We are disturbed that several members of parliament have publicly vilified the authors of the report without utilising established channels to redress any grievances arising from the impugned report,” the FCA said.

The FCA, a professional body representing Colombo-based foreign media, appealed to all parties to take up any issue resulting from the publication of the report with the editors concerned as is the norm.

FCA also urged the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the safety and security of all journalists in Sri Lanka, including colleagues visiting the island on reporting assignments. (Colombo Gazette)

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