Photograph: Johann Mikaelsson via JDSLanka
Sri Lanka’s former defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa denied that any Tamil journalists were killed during his tenure and lashed out at critics in an interview this week.
Speaking with Johan Mikaelsson, Rajapaksa claimed he was “100% sure” that no Tamil journalists were killed or disappeared and lamented that “there is no end to complaints”.
Extracts of the interview with Mikaelsson (JM) and Rajapaksa (GR) are below:
“I don’t think any Tamil journalists were killed during that time,” [GR] said and began talking about the areas controlled by the government and the areas held by the LTTE.
JM: “Yes, but a number of journalists were killed in areas controlled by the government, in Colombo, Batticaloa and ...”
JM: “In Trincomalee, Jaffna ...”
GR: “No. No. They were perhaps killed by LTTE, who opposed some of the Tamil journalists. But otherwise I can not see that any Tamil journalists were killed during that period.”
JM: “But there were actually several!”
GR: “No, it’s incorrect information.”
JM: “Tamil journalists were kidnapped and ...”
GR: “If you want to take my word on it: This is incorrect information. Not a single Tamil politician or journalist was murdered during that period in Colombo or Batticaloa. But LTTE tried to kill some. I do not remember the details, because it has been a long time since. I am sure no Tamil journalists were assassinated or disappeared. I am 100 percent sure.”
A report by Together Against Genocide found that since the beginning of the reign of the United People’s Freedom Alliance coalition government in 2004, at least 48 journalists or media workers were killed on the island, making it one of the most dangerous places in the world for reporters.
Rajapaksa, who took up the post of defence secretary in 2015 and headed up the military offensive that killed tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, though justified censorship of the press during his reign.
“If you do not report correctly and think about the country’s best, problems arise. Therefore, the government-imposed restrictions,” he said. “Imposing restrictions on the media was necessary to get people to support the government’s war effort, which was a necessity.”
He also spoke out against efforts in pushing for accountability, stating that “any incident taken up will push people further apart”.
“We have to leave the past behind,” he said.
See the full text of the interview here.
Gotabhaya was Sri Lanka’s defence secretary during the final phase of the armed conflict where Sri Lankan troops systematically shelled hospitals, no fire zones and committed widespread sexual violence. In the past he has defended the military’s bombing of hospitals, and even stands accused of giving direct orders to execute surrendering Tamils.