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Sri Lankan journalists stage ‘Black January’ protest

Colombo, Jan 30 (): In dark remembrance of a series of attacks on journalists and media men in Sri Lanka, 100 Sri Lankan journalists and activists  came together to stage a ‘Black January’ protest here on Tuesday.

The protest was staged to draw the attention of the government to the planned killings and sudden disappearances of journalists in Sri Lanka. The protesters shouted slogans and held placards that read” Resist suppression of the media.”

As it happened in 2012, this year’s prominent face was Sandhya Eknelygoda, wife of Prageeth Eknelygoda (the cartoonist who disappeared in 2010, with the case still remaining an unsolved puzzle).

Sandhya is becoming a  key representative to raise voice against the injustice and violence meted out not just at journalists but all those whom the powerful and influential want to silence. She has single-mindedly pushed to have her right to know what has happened to the father of her two sons.

January has witnessed a series of attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka in the past four years. The state authorities fail to book the culprits while the culprits go scot-free.

The dictatorial Mahinda Rajapakse regime silences media through various means-killings, arson, intimidations, harassments, forced exiles etc.

Press freedom in Sri Lanka is the worst in any democratic country; the island nation ranked 165th among 178 countries for 2011 according to the Paris-based Reporters without Borders index while it was ranked 158 in 2010.

Freedom House, a United States-based NGO that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, has ranked Sri Lanka 161 out of 197 countries in terms of press freedom in its report for 2012. Sri Lanka came out with a rating of 72 with a “not free” status.

Dark & tainted timeline of attacks on Sri Lankan journalists

Since 2007, 27 journalists have been forced into exile.

Jan,2009 : Lasantha Wikramatunga, the chief editor of the English Weekly Sunday Leader, a well-known critic of governmental policies was gunned down in broad daylight by unidentified gunmen. The case still remains unsolved.

Apr,2009 : M.I. Rahmathulla was beaten up for reporting on political corruption in the Batticaloa region of Sri Lanka’s Eastern province.

Jan,2010 : Columnist and cartoonist  Prageeth Eknelygoda disappeared; his sudden disappearance is still unexplained. He worked for Lanka eNews, a pro-opposition website. This website had been repeatedly attacked; its staffers were arrested and harassed. Its editor had been forced  into exile in England.

July 2011 : Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, editor of the Tamil daily Uthayan, was brutally assaulted near his residence in northern Sri Lanka by a group brandishing iron bars.

June 2012 : The Criminal Investigation Department’s Colombo Crime Division ransacked the office shared by news websites Sri Lanka Mirror and Sri Lanka X News. Nine journalists were arrested and most of the computer equipment belonging to both the websites were seized for propagating ‘false and unethical’ news on Sri Lanka.

July 2012 : Sri Lanka’s powerful defence secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, in a strong flare-up intimidated a senior woman editor of a newspaper with death, using bad and foul language.

During Mahinda Rajapakse regime, BBC journalist, Chris Morris was threatened by Defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa to act responsibly and was threatened to be chased out of the country.BBC World Service stopped its Sinhalese and Tamil broadcast for fear of retaliation against its journalists.

The United States and European Union in July 2012 have raised concerns over worsening media freedom in Sri Lanka after police shut down two anti-government news websites.

With such a notorious history of media freedom, Sri Lanka is ranked fourth in Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) impunity index.