Tuesday, March 18, 2008


Workers at Sri Lanka's state television channel fear they are being hunted. In the past two months, staff members have been stabbed, threatened and beaten by unknown assailants. In response workers there planned to go on strike yesterday.

Instead the military took over the state owned television station.

"We were not allowed to enter the station this morning and told that a special holiday had been declared. But they have taken a few selected employees inside to work," Kanchana Marasinghe, an employee union spokesman said.

The workers later staged a sit-in-protest at the Independence Square nearby and the police riot squad with water cannon were placed nearby sending a message of government intimidation.

The wave of attacks on journalist the employees of the TV station believe are connected to a "feud" with a powerful government minister.

"It's very clear, the government wants to control the media and journalists," said Sunanda Deshapriya of the Free Media Movement.

Last Friday morning, Anurasiri Hettige, an employee of the state television corporation, was attacked with an iron club as he waited for a bus in a Colombo suburb.

He was the fifth employee of the channel to be attacked or threatened in the last three months. Media rights groups say that the attacks are linked to an incident on Dec. 27 last year, when government minister Mervyn Silva stormed into Rupavahini and physically assaulted a senior staff person over a news program. Silva, in turn, was beaten up and daubed in paint by angry Rupavahini employees as he was escorted out under military protection.

‘’All these incidents are linked to the what happened on December 27,’’ Poddala Jayantha, secretary of the working journalists association, told IPS. ‘’The attacks on Rupavahini employees continue because authorities have been slow to go after those responsible… instead Rupavahini workers are being questioned on the December 27 incident.’’

It was after the latest assault last Friday the workers announced plans for a protest on Monday. Employees also forwarded a letter with five demands to President Mahinda Rajapakse.

One of those demands, reports Xinhua, was a call for presidential action to strip Deputy Minister of Labor Mervyn Silva's ministerial position. Silva had been involved in more incidents since he stormed the television station premises to attack the news editor last December.

‘’Sri Lanka's government must take concrete steps to ensure the safety and protection of journalists in the conduct of their work, starting with public reprimands for government members who verbally and physically attack the media, and give directives to local authorities to investigate and act on attacks against journalists across the island, including the attacks on Rupavahini staff,’’ Jacqueline Park, Asia Pacific director of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), said in a statement soon after the Friday attack.

Also this week Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), a Paris-based media watchdog accused Sri Lanka Police of arresting five Tamil journalists on false information and beating them during detention. They said that the Police action was intended to extract confessions from the detainees. RSF urged Sri Lankan authorities to explain why the journalists are still being held.

Campaigners for press freedom say Sri Lanka, which is caught in a bloody conflict between the government and Tamil Tiger rebels, is becoming one of the most dangerous places for journalists to operate in the world.

In a report last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused the security forces and pro-government militias of being among the world's worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances.

The following is from NIDAHASA News.

Sri Lanka State Own Television - Rupavahini under Military Control?

Sri Lanka state-owned television station - Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corperation (SLRC) is now running under the controller of military following the management declared a "holiday" overnight to avert a strike, union workers said.

The premises was barricaded and only a few selected staffers were allowed in, television workers said

According to sources, the Main Control Room of channel now controlled by Sri Lanka Army (SLA) personnels. Also a large number of military personnel including the anti-riot squad have been deployed at the SLRC premises.

Several Rupavahini workers including a female, have been attacked continuously following an incident where junior labor minister Mervyn Silva was held hostage by staff of the station after he stormed the newsroom and assaulted its news chief.

President Mahinda Rajapakse is to meet television worker unions later in the day.

All live programs of the channel were halted since Friday (14). The station now airing only pre-recorded programs.

International media rights bodies have said Sri Lanka is one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists after Iraq.

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