Reporters Without Borders is outraged by an assault on Poddala Jayantha, the secretary-general of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), the country’s leading journalists organisation, who was kidnapped yesterday by a gang on a Colombo street, tortured and then dumped at a roadside. He is now in hospital with serious leg injuries.
“Political gangs are celebrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in their own fashion, in this case by abducting and torturing a press freedom activist,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The government must take energetic measures to put a stop to this continuing war against the media and human rights activists. We express our complete solidarity with Poddala Jayantha, who acted with courage in defending his fellow journalists.”
Reporters Without Borders also calls for the release of Bennet Rupasinghe, a reporter with the Lankaenews.com website, who is being held by the police just for alerting Jayantha’s family to the fact that he had been kidnapped. The police also questioned the website’s editor.
Known for organising many demonstrations in defence of press freedom, Jayantha had just left a pharmacy yesterday afternoon when he was kidnapped by about six unidentified Sinhalese men in a white van, who gave him severe beating and cut his beard and hair before abandoning him at the side of a road.
He was taken to Colombo National Hospital where he was to undergo an operation for multiple fractures to the left leg that were not life-threatening, doctors said. His assailants also broke three of his fingers. Relatives who visited him in the hospital said he was in a state of shock.
A police spokesman confirmed to the press that Jayantha had been the victim of an assault and said the identity of those responsible was not known.
Jayantha has been getting threats for months because of his criticism of the government. As a journalist, he currently works for a children’s publication owned by the state press group Lake House. For a long time he was in charge of provincial news coverage and received Transparency International’s “National Integrity Award” in 2004 for his investigative reporting on corruption.
He left the country for a month in January after receiving repeated threats. He benefited from the Free Media Movement’s protection programme for journalists for a year but it stopped because of funding shortage and he had been planning to leave the capital in the coming days.
The state-owned media meanwhile continue to attack all those who criticise the government and the army, thereby endangering human rights activists. The CPA, a civil society group, was recently the target of threats.