The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins partners and affiliates in Sri Lanka in strongly decrying the continuing climate of threat and intimidation that has forced another senior journalist, Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, co-editor of the Sunday Leader, to seek exile.
The Free Media Movement, an IFJ affiliate, reports that Abeywickrema left Sri Lanka on 17 September 2013, reportedly for a North American country. Her husband Romesh Abeywickrema, business editor of the Sunday Leader and their twelve-year old daughter have also reportedly left the country.
The FMM reports that since 2005, when the last phase of active hostilities in Sri Lanka’s long-running civil war began, more than eighty journalists have fled the country.
The FMM has described this as an ongoing “war against journalism”, which has now claimed another victim.
The Abeywickrema home was raided just before dawn on 24 August by an armed group that included a number of serving military personnel. The raiders spent three hours examining various documents that the journalist couple had in their possession but seemingly after failing to find what they wanted, threatened them with severe consequences before leaving in a hurry when police arrived at the scene.
Again on 8 September, an unidentified gang had broken into the Abeywickrema home and made off with a computer.
Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema had on one occasions spoken about her suspicions that the police were trying to cover up the real reasons behind the robbery of her computer.
She has since reported receiving several death threats. The family has lived in hiding ever since the August incident, moving from house to house for their safety, until they managed to secure the necessary resources for leaving the country.
The leader of the opposition in Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickramasinghe has meanwhile raised the matter in parliament and charged that the Abeywickrema residence was robbed to destroy crucial evidence related to an illegal deal that a young and very powerful politician from the ruling party had allegedly entered into with an Indian company.
IFJ joins the FMM in calling on the Government of Sri Lanka to end the impunity which has become the shield for attacks against the right to free speech and the right to information in Sri Lanka.
“The climate of fear that has hung over Sri Lanka’s journalists for years together has to be dispelled”, said the IFJ Asia-Pacific.
“We extend our solidarity to all partners and colleagues in Sri Lanka as they continue their struggle to restore a suitable environment for fair and fearless journalism in the country”.