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Press freedom activist abducted, assaulted in Colombo; suffers serious injuries

Press freedom activist abducted, assaulted in Colombo; suffers serious injuries
Journalist and media activist Poddala Jayantha lies in Colombo National Hospital after being abducted and assaulted by unidentified assailants June 1, 2009.

The general secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, Poddala Jayantha, was abducted in Sri Lanka, beaten, and dropped by the side of a road in a Colombo suburb on Monday.

The attack came on a busy road during rush hour at 5:15 p.m. Jayantha's colleagues said witnesses at the scene told them six unidentified men in a white Toyota Hi Ace van with tinted glass windows grabbed Jayantha as he was walking home in the well-to-do suburb of Nugegoda. The same type of vehicles have been used to pick up anti-government figures in the past, research by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has found. The journalist was left on the side of the road about half an hour later.

Jayantha declined to speak directly with CPJ, but two colleagues who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution told CPJ by phone that he was beaten with an iron bar and wooden poles—weapons similar to those used in other recent attacks on journalists. Jayantha has a broken ankle and is reportedly severely bruised over much of his body. In an apparent attempt to humiliate him, his abductors shaved the hair on half his head and the other half of his beard. News reports say his injuries are not life-threatening.

"The attack on Poddala Jayantha is part of a trend," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia programme coordinator. "These attacks are a chilling reminder that journalists remain under attack in Sri Lanka even after the end of the government's battle with Tamil separatists. We call on authorities to ensure a thorough and immediate investigation into this assault."

“Political gangs are celebrating the military defeat of the Tamil Tiger rebels in their own fashion, in this case by abducting and torturing a press freedom activist,” Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) said. “The government must take energetic measures to put a stop to this continuing war against the media and human rights activists. We express our complete solidarity with Poddala Jayantha, who acted with courage in defending his fellow journalists.”

The Associated Press reported that police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekara said that "authorities don't know who was behind the attack on Jayantha, who had long accused the government of using threats to silence criticism in the media. No arrests have been made."

Sri Lankan journalists came under increased attack after the government decided to pursue an all-out victory of the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in 2006. Despite the end of the country's decades-long civil war in May, the climate of intimidation has persisted for journalists. During much of the fighting, foreign and local reporters were prohibited by both sides from covering the front line, a policy the government is continuing.

CPJ reported extensively on attacks on journalists in "Sri Lanka: Failure to Investigate" and recently ranked Sri Lanka as the fourth-worst country in the world for impunity in attacks on journalists.

Date posted: June 2, 2009 Last modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 259