COLOMBO, SRI LANKA - Sri Lankan rights activists, lawmakers and relatives of slain and disappeared journalists held a vigil over their abductions and killings, demanding the government expedite investigations.
Freddie Gamage, an organizer of the vigil Thursday, said that despite being in power for four years, the current government “has miserably failed to fulfill its promise to punish those responsible for attacks on journalists.”
President Maithripala Sirisena came into power in 2015, promising to end a culture of impunity and ensure justice for the slain journalists. Under Sirisena’s predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, dozens of journalists were killed, abducted and tortured. Some fled the country, fearing for their lives.
In some cases, military officers were arrested and released on bail.
Gamage said 44 journalists and media workers were killed between 2006 and 2015, during the Rajapaksa presidency. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 11 journalists were killed in the same period, including five who were targeted for murder and whose cases remain unsolved.
“Investigations have been launched only into two or three cases, but so far those probes too have not been concluded and culprits have not been punished,” he said. “All the other cases of attacks on journalists have been totally neglected by the authorities.”
Ajith Perera, a lawmaker and government minister, lamented the slow progress of the investigations on attacks on journalists.
“None of those responsible for attacks on media have been punished. The government should be ashamed,” he said.
In the past, the government has said the investigations are handled by police and that they will not interfere.
Separately on Thursday, Sandya Ekneligoda, the wife of abducted journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, staged a sit-in protest in front of the president’s office, demanding his administration bring to justice the perpetrators responsible for her husband’s disappearance nine years ago on Jan. 24.
Ekneligoda, a journalist and cartoonist, wrote about corruption and nepotism and Rajapaksa’s leadership of the military campaign against the Tamil Tiger rebels. He was abducted two days before a 2010 presidential election in which he actively supported Rajapaksa’s rival. Several military intelligence officials have been arrested in connection with his disappearance but they have been bailed out.
Most of the killings and attacks on journalists took place during Sri Lanka’s civil war, which ended in 2009, after the government troops defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels who fought for a separate state for the ethnic minority Tamils.
Both the government and the rebels were accused of killing and abducting critics.