"Speaking for myself, and I’m fairly sure the government will back me up on this, there is no question that the government needs our journalists,” Peiris told the delegation in his office. “They must come back and work with us and help set up the structures so that we can work together and we can respect each other. We must work with these institutions because we need them. We know if they stay outside and attack the government that is not useful.”
When asked if the government would ensure their safety, Peries said, “Of course, if they come back, there must be assurance on our part that they won’t come to any harm.”
Pereis made the statements to CPJ Deputy Director Robert
Mahoney and Asia Program Coordinator
The January voting resulted in a landslide victory for incumbent President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Post-election disputes saw the arrest of the chief opposition candidate, former general Sareth Fonseka, who is being held as the government prepares charges against him and many of his supporters.
“The attorney general’s appeal to journalists to return from exile is just a first step,” said Mahoney. “The government must go further by taking concrete action to address the climate of impunity and intimidation that prompted them to flee in the first place.”
Sri Lankan journalists told CPJ about growing harassment from the government. Sri Lankan journalism is noted for its high degree of partisanship, and most media sided clearly with either Rajapaksa or Fonseka. State media heavily favored the incumbent, and staff at some state-owned media protested the violation of neutrality. Independent media chose to back one candidate, with few remaining neutral.
“Many journalists with whom we met in
The January 24 disappearance of Prageeth Eknelygoda, a political reporter for Lanka eNews, an opposition, pro-Fonseka Web site, remains unresolved. Eknelygoda’s wife, Sandhya, has repeatedly written to authorities, including President Rajapaksa, pleading for news of her husband’s whereabouts. The Sinhala-language opposition weekly Lanka’s editor, Chandana Sirimalwatte, was arrested on January 29, held for 19 days, and released with no charges brought against him. Earlier this week, Sandurwan Senadeera, Lanka eNews’ owner and editor, left the country after repeated threats on his life. CPJ estimates there are more than 15 Sri Lankan journalists who are now in exile, having fled to country in fear of their safety.