As violence escalates in Sri Lanka, so does the number of daily casualties. The situation is far from easy for journalists covering the armed conflict. Since it resumed in 2006, the threats to the media in Sri Lanka have increased dramatically.
Dozens have died in fresh clashes between Sri Lankan troops and rebels in recent days
Some journalists have received death threats; others have been tortured, harassed, intimidated and detained arbitrarily.
Rachel Cohen from the International Federation of Journalists says the situation is “alarming”: In the last few months we have seen a number of cases of harassment of journalists in Sri Lanka. These range from verbal abuse to detention.”
The number of victims of unlawful killings, especially in the northern Jaffna peninsula, has also risen, says Sunanda Deshapriya from the Free Media Movement in Colombo: “In the last two years, we have seen 11 journalists and media workers killed. Every month, a number of them are assaulted. Out of these 11, 10 were of Tamil origin.”
Security forces involvement
Rights group say that, in many cases, the local police and security forces are directly responsible for the abuses against journalists.
“There was on harassment on Jan. 23 by members of the police and the Civil Defence Committees (CDCs),” explained Rachel Cohen from the International Federation of Journalists.
“So both are involved and it seems like in some of the cases the CDC identifies the journalist and then the harassment is done by the police.”
The government pulled out of a 2002 ceasefire agreement with the Tamil Tiger rebels last month.
With the collapse of the truce, attempts to censor the media have increased.
Recently, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa openly expressed his support for press censorship and harsh punishments for critical reporting about the military.
As Deshapriya explains, gaining access to conflict zones has become virtually impossible for journalists:
“There is an ideology propagated by the government that either ‘you are with us or you are with the terrorists’ so there is virtually no space for critical reporting.”
Earlier this month, the Paris-based media rights group Reporters without Borders listed Sri Lanka as one of the worst places for journalists and media freedom in the world.
It also accused the government of blocking the flow of independent news sources for Tamil-speaking areas.