Sri Lankan journalists fear situation may worsen after vote

COLOMBO, SRI LANKA (AP) — Forced to flee their country a decade ago to escape allegedly state-sponsored killer squads, Sri Lankan journalists living in exile doubt they’ll be able to return home soon or see justice served to their tormentors — whose alleged ringleader could come to power in this weekend’s presidential election.

Exiled journalists and media rights groups are disappointed by the current government’s failure in punishing those responsible for crimes committed against media members during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s tenure from 2005 to 2015.

And with Rajapaksa’s younger brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa — the former defence chief suspected of being behind the attacks — favoured to win Saturday’s election, they do not believe the situation will change anytime soon. The current government led by President Maithripala Sirisena came to power in 2015 and promised to end impunity on crimes against journalists and media organisations. But more than four years later, police investigations still have not led to any convictions on media attacks.

“We are not satisfied with the measures taken by this government in probing the attacks on media,” said President of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association Duminda Sampath, the largest media organisation in the country, adding that “none of the culprits accused of attacks on media have so far been exposed or punished”.

During Mahinda Rajapaksa’s time as president, several journalists were assassinated by unidentified killers, while others were abducted in mysterious white vans and tortured before being either killed or released.

The abductions and killings took place during the final years of Sri Lanka’s long civil war, which ended in 2009. While there are no proper records to show how many were abducted or killed, Sampath said around 60 journalists fled the country during this period out of fear for their lives.

File photo shows Sri Lankan journalists shout slogans during a protest demanding the government investigate into abduction and assault of fellow journalist Keith Noyahr in Colombo. PHOTO: AP