Journalists under threat as Sri Lanka elections near

New York, January 13, 2010—As Sri Lanka’s media comes under increasing partisan pressure, the Committee to Protect Journalists calls on all sides contesting the January 26 general elections to respect the role of journalists in covering the campaign and voting process. CPJ notes with concern today’s assault on the BBC’s Sinhala service reporter who, according to Sri Lankan media reports, was hospitalized after a political mob, apparently linked to supporters of an agriculture minster, attacked her as she was covering the event.

Thakshila Dilrukshi was pursued by government supporters of Agriculture Minister Maithreepala Sirisena, who is also secretary general of the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party, and attacked with clubs. Her recording equipment and mobile phone were taken as well, according to the German News Agency DPA. CPJ is trying to confirm the extent of her injuries.

The media support and press freedom group Media Freedom in Sri Lanka told CPJ that election-monitoring networks have recorded hundreds of incidents of recent campaign-related violence.

“We condemn the attack on Thakshila Dilrukshi and call on the government and the organizers of political rallies to ensure the safety of journalists,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “As the country emerges from its battle with Tamil secessionists, it is important that all parties work to create an environment that will allow journalists to cover the elections without threat.”

The war with the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam ended in May 2009, after decades of conflict, and the bitter fighting left much of Sri Lanka’s media highly partisan. Many news outlets carry daily accounts of clashes between supporters of the country’s many political factions. On several occasions, reporters covering the campaign-related violence have been caught up in the action. The two main presidential candidates, incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his opponent, former army chief Sarath Fonseka, have also launched lawsuits against media organizations who have reported critically about them or their political parties.

CPJ reported extensively on attacks on journalists in its special report Sri Lanka: Failure to Investigate and recently ranked Sri Lanka as the fourth-worst country in the world for impunity in attacks on journalists. Twelve journalists have been killed and scores of others attacked since the Rajapaksa government came to power, with no convictions in any of the cases. A two-part blog entry on the violence against journalists is running on