The United Nations has designated 2nd of November, today, as the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists. This article is about that.
We are talking about crimes against journalists in Sri Lanka in a backdrop where there is no specific database with relevant information about it. Although some media outlets have published such informative statements, they fail to cover all the events that took place in the past.
According to statistics presented to Parliament by former Minister of Law, Order and Southern Development Sagala Ratnayake on November 19, 2016, 13 journalists were killed, 87 journalists were assaulted, 20 journalists have been arrested and five media outlets have been attacked between January 2006 and January 2015.
According to the Journalists for Democracy (JDS), ‘Nine years with the death’, 44 journalists and media workers were killed between 2004 and 2009. There have been nine instances where media institutions were attacked.
The media circus
As soon as he broke out from the Mahinda Rajapaksa government as the common candidate of the Opposition, President Maithripala Sirisena, who came into power in 2015, promised to do justice to journalists during his first press conference. The then Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe appeared before the media during the media crackdown and stated that his government would do justice to journalists after coming to power.
However, the ‘Yahapalana’ government led by Maithri-Ranil in 2015 did nothing for journalists and launched only a few investigations into crimes against journalists under the influence of media organizations.
According to Ratnayake’s speech in 2016, there were 126 incidents of criminals being exempted from crimes against journalists in Sri Lanka, but investigations were initiated into only six cases.
Those cases were Lasantha Wickramatunge’s assassination, abduction and disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, abducting and torturing of Keith Noyar, assault on Upali Tennakoon, assault on Namal Perera and abducting and torturing Poddala Jayantha.
Apart from these, not a single investigation was launched into other crimes against journalists.
Out of the above incidents, the suspects were arrested only for assaulting Keith Noyar, assaulting Upali Tennakoon, assaulting Namal Perera and abducting and disappearing Prageeth Eknaligoda. All those suspects are members of the military.
Army personnel may have had no personal interest in attacking these journalists, and although it is a fact that they did so on someone’s orders, no one has been arrested so far. The four cases are still pending in court and none of the suspects have been convicted. The suspects are out on bail.
Who gave the orders?
No suspect has been arrested in connection with the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunge. Only a handful of policemen were arrested, and they were arrested not for murder, but for destroying evidence or tampering with the evidence.
Although the then IGP was among those to be arrested, he escaped with a court order.
Despite the CID preparing to arrest a police officer who was a senior SSP at the time for concealing evidence during investigations into the assault on Poddala Jayantha, it did not happen. The SSP is currently a senior DIG who is dreaming of becoming an IGP.
Media institutions including Udayan and Lanka E-news were attacked on several occasions but no investigation was carried out into these incidents. Especially investigations into the murders of Tamil media journalists including Dharmaratnam Sivaram (Tharaki), Nadesan, K.A. Balanadaraja, Relangi Selvaraja, Subramaniam Sugitharajan, B.G. Sagayadas, Chandrabose Sudhakar, Selvarasa Rajivarman, Sahadevan Nilakshan, Vadivelu Nimalaraj, P. Devakumr have not begun yet.
Many crimes were committed against journalists even during the so-called ‘Yahapalana’ government. The main incident was the public attack on a journalist by the former Navy Commander. Not only was he not investigated, but later promoted to Chief of Defense Staff and given several extensions.
Sri Lanka is not an exception from the other countries
Immunity to crimes against journalists, the impunity of those involved, is more or less the same as in Sri Lanka all over the world. The case of Ahmad Rilwan in the Maldives is a fine example.
In 2019, the Maldivian National Policy Commission (NPC) reiterated that police investigations into the abduction and murder of Maldivian journalist Rilwan were ongoing and had no political intervention. But his relatives allege that the investigation into his case, after his abduction five years ago, in 2014 under the previous government, is not carried out properly.
The commission said in a statement that there was no evidence that any politician or senior government official in the current Maldivian government or the defeated Yameen government had obstructed the investigation. Although Rilwan was abducted in 2014, no investigation was carried out until five years later. Ibrahim Mohamed Soli’s new Maldivian government has resumed investigations.
It is just like the ‘Yahapalana’ government initiated to investigate into the crimes committed during Mahinda Rajapaksa government.
It was during those investigations that it was revealed that Rilwan was killed in the middle of the sea. He was a leading journalist who exposed the frauds and corruption of the then government. Just as the CID during ‘Yahapalana’ government uncovered information on the killings of journalists in Sri Lanka.
Yameen’s government had previously said that Rilwan was killed by Islamist militants just as Mahinda Rajapaksa government blamed killings and disappearances during their tenure on LTTE.
Investigators have revealed that Rilwan, who was abducted near his home, was taken to the island of Hulhumale, a tourist paradise in the Maldives, and then taken to the sea in a boat and killed. The Hulhumale Island area is under constant scrutiny by government security forces due to the large number of tourists.
Just like Wickramatunge was assassinated in a very close proximity to the Attidiya Air Force base. In such a situation, the assassination of Rilwan and his transfer to the Hulhumale area is a reason to suspect that the Yameen government was involved.
The culprits walked out free
Two suspects have been arrested in connection with Rilwan’s murder in September 2014, but both have been released within a week. Investigators have revealed that Ahmed Adeeb, the then Minister of Tourism, was directly involved in the release of the two men. A year after that incident, he was sworn in as Vice President of the Maldives. Are the Maldivian conditions different than in Sri Lanka?
Yameen was prosecuted under state fiscal irregularities as soon as Soli’s government arrived. A key element of Soli’s campaign was to enforce the law against Yameen’s corruption and crime. This should have reminded you of the 2015 presidential election season and the months that followed.
Although Soli’s government has said they will do justice to these crimes, it was not until a few months after coming to power, like Sri Lanka, began to adopt a policy of protecting certain influential people. Up to date, no arrests have been made, except for the arrest of several suspects in Rilwan’s case. This is exactly the same that happens in Sri Lanka.
Moreover, the Washington Post ‘s journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was assassinated at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, was not brought to justice in a different way. The case against Khashoggi, who was assassinated on October 2, 2018, was closed last month. That was after several suspects were convicted.
A group of close associates of Saudi Crown Prince Salman have been directly accused of killing Khashoggi. They represent a special unit under Prince Salman.
Reuters reports that Saud al-Katani, a senior adviser to Prince Salman, had been in contact with the assassins shortly before the assassination via Skype technology. He had told the killers, “Bring me that dog’s head.” But none of those culprits were punished.
Public support for crimes
There should be a majority of people on this earth who believe they have a right to information and who are willing to line up and fight for it. Otherwise, two types of crimes will continue to occur. One is to release misinformation to the public and to use that misinformation to consolidate power and achieve its goals. There, people will have to make decisions based on the misinformation provided.
The second is to facilitate those who have the power to suppress, assassinate, and disappear journalists who seek the right truth in a society where people accept false information. In countries like Sri Lanka, where governments commit any crime to seize power, criminals will be immune to everything until the majority of the people stand up against them.