A candlelight vigil was held in Batticaloa yesterday to mark ‘Black January’, a day to commemorate the intimidation, murder and enforced disappearance of journalists in Sri Lanka.
Demonstrators lit candles in remembrance of the journalists who had lost their lives in pursuit of democratic accountability and reiterated their demands for an independent international investigation into these murders.
“All the murdered journalists in Sri Lanka were assassinated for the sole reason that they were trying to uncover the truth and defend Sri Lanka's democracy. But so far no one has been able to bring justice to the families of any of these murdered journalists” their joint statement read.
It further added:
“We also call on all to come together to protect the journalists who are the defenders of democracy who are risking their lives to protect the democracy of Sri Lanka”.
They document the deaths of 43 journalists, the majority of which are Tamil (35), 5 Sinhalese, and 3 Muslim. There was a record number of journalist deaths under the previous Rajapaksa administration (26); whilst the Bandaranaike government saw the deaths of 13 journalists; the Premadasa regime saw the deaths of 2 journalists and the Jayewardene regime saw the death of 1 journalist.
“No successive government has been able to bring justice to them” and stress that “murdered journalists are not getting justice through the justice system in Sri Lanka.”
Commenting on the climate of fear in Sri Lanka, demonstrators maintained the need for accountability.
“If journalists are to continue to operate freely in this country, the perpetrators of the murders and disappearances of journalists must be prosecuted and punished. Only then will the perpetrators fear retribution for their actions against the media”.
“But the perpetrators of the massacre of journalists, the kidnappers, the intimidators and the attackers of the media are all still roaming freely in this country [… They] continue to operate independently, with no investigations or penalties for tampering with the media”
The organisers also maintained that:
“Threats continue to be made against the media in a variety of ways, including threats to life and surveillance of journalists and media outlets who expose the facts, pressure on the families of journalists, false allegations, intelligence surveillance, and threats from former armed groups”.
The event was jointly organized by the Batticaloa District Tamil Journalists Union, Modular Media Center, Ampara District Media Center, Batticaloa District Professional Journalists Association and the Eastern Province Tamil Journalists Union. The event was attended by journalists, religious leaders and representatives of civil society organizations.