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Karu condemns attack on Poddala

The following statement was issued by UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya on the recent attack on Mr. Poddala Jayantha, Secretary to the sri Lanka Working Journalists Association:

It was with shock that we received news of the latest attack on a Sri Lankan journalist, this time on one of the stalwarts in the ongoing battle for media freedom in the country. Mr. Poddala Jayantha is not only a media professional, but he is also the secretary of the Working Journalists Association, a body that has worked tirelessly together with other sections of civil society to secure the rights of media personnel in Sri Lanka.

Mr. Jayantha is also an employee of the state-run Lake House newspaper group and a senior hand, who has earned the respect of peers and the public over the years. This attack must be condemned therefore in the strongest possible terms, not only as a vile and brutal attack on a single journalist, but for being another crippling blow to a profession that has seen some of the ugliest violence perpetrated on its practitioners in recent times.

The free and independent media is considered a fundamental cornerstone of any vibrant democracy. The role of the media might be distasteful from time to time to those of us who engage in politics and governance, but it does not change the fact that an independent media remains vital to keeping the checks and balances within a free society. It is no secret that the media in Sri Lanka has taken a battering over the last three years with Journalists being murdered, assaulted, intimidated and driven to exile.

The attack on Mr. Jayantha therefore is not an isolated incident, but one in a series of what appears to be calculated attempts to silence the voice of the free press in the country. The oppression of the media has been one of the greatest thorns in the side of this administration, which has been fighting a courageous battle against separatism and terrorism up in the north.

It has gone against this government that it has failed to investigate the violence against senior journalists, including the death of The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, assault and abduction of the former deputy editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr, assault of Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon, attacks on Namal Perera of the Sri Lanka Press Institute and countless other incidents of violence and intimidation perpetrated against members of the media fraternity. The perpetrators of all these crimes remain at large, even though the government has made countless promises to carry out investigations into all these incidents, often appointing high profile commissions of inquiries to do so.

It is also distressing that Mr. Jayantha, now another name on this growing list, was attacked hot on the heels of Sri Lanka’s victory at the UN Human Rights Council session, during which certain countries attempted to bring a resolution against Sri Lanka on account of the human rights violations taking place in the island, including the violent attacks against media personnel. At a time when the country is struggling to build its image as a global citizen committed to democracy and human rights, attacks such as the one on Mr. Jayantha will prove detrimental to these efforts.

While there remains a possibility that attacks such as the one against Mr. Jayantha today, were perpetrated by criminal elements, the lack of progress by the law enforcement authorities to resolve any of the past atrocities leave much room for blame to fall on the government.

Sri Lanka stands at a unique crossroads of her history. The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has won an immense victory, having led the Sri Lankan armed forces towards the conclusive defeat of the LTTE. Thanks to the sacrifices of these brave young men who fought for our freedom, Sri Lanka now has a golden opportunity to build on the democratic principles it has stood for since independence. This country now has a chance to find peace that has eluded us so long and all her people are now free to live in peace and ethnic harmony.

The media has a vital role to play in this reconciliation process. Should we let go of this opportunity and allow ourselves to descend into lawlessness, the sacrifices of our war heroes, who fought for freedom from terror and intimidation, would have been in vain. Following the Sri Lankan forces victory over the LTTE, President Rajapaksa himself announced that the writ of the parliament of Sri Lanka now reigns over all the land. The time has now come to demonstrate that the rule of law also prevails throughout this island, without exceptions. To allow these heinous attacks to go on, would be to grossly undermine the efforts of all those who died for our collective future.

People made several sacrifices, including curtailment of certain civil liberties in the fight against terrorism. At a moment when we celebrate the valiant efforts of thousands of our soldiers who have delivered this country from the clutches of terrorism, it is most definitely opportune to resolve to build democracy. It is indeed the greatest tribute that we can pay to those who sacrificed life, limb and tomorrow, to ensure that we live in a country which is truly free from terrorism, fear and intimidation. We earnestly call upon the government to bring the culprits of these heinous crimes to book, considering this shameless attack on Mr. Poddala Jayantha not only as an attack on a single journalist, but as a continuous cycle of violence and intimidation unleashed against media personnel in this country.

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