Tamil journalists in Batticaloa protested in front of Batticaloa's Gandhi Park today to demand justice for abducted and assassinated journalists and to condemn the government’s continued media repression.
Marking “Black January”, the protestors said that nearly 40 Tamil journalists had been abducted or disappeared and demanded to know the status of investigations into these cases.
“We are calling on the government to ensure the freedom of expression and speech. We are aware that no matter how many strides we take, our freedom is further curtailed by various laws that are being enacted,” remarked a protestor at the scene.
A protest was held in front of the monument of the deceased journalists located in Gandhi Park in Batticaloa district. The Batticaloa District Tamil Journalists Union, Madu Madhya Amiyam, and the Eastern Tamil Journalists Union jointly organised the protest and was led by Tamil Eelam Liberation Organization (TELO) MP Govindan Karunakaram. Several journalists, members of civil society, activists, and religious leaders participated in the protest.
Protestors held placards calling on the government to withdraw the controversial Online Safety Bill; others read “Give justice to the assassinated and abducted journalists” and “Ensure media freedom.”
The Batti Press Club also held a media briefing today where several female journalists spoke up about the harassment and intimidation they continue to face from Sri Lanka's security forces.
“We are often visited by officers from the Criminal Investigation Department CID who come to our homes,” the head of the Batti Press Club Sebastian Devi told the media.
“They are intent on silencing our voices. We are asking only one thing from the government. We are telling them, that they are the reason our children are being harassed and abducted. So they must answer. Why is the government unable to reveal if our children are among the dead or alive?"
Thambirasa Selvarani, President of the Amparai District Missing Persons' Association who also spoke at the media briefing said that February 4th is commemorated as Independence Day however for many like her, it is a black day devoid of any celebration.
“Why celebrate an Independence Day when Tamils are not allowed to be independent? We cannot even say a word without being intimated or silenced. We, the Tamils are yet to gain our independence.”
She said that the current government led by President Ranil Wickremasinghe has yet to even meet or speak with the families of those who have disappeared. “We don't even have the opportunity or freedom to raise our concerns with a head of state, so why even bother celebrating an Independence Day when there are attempts to silence them than to listen to them.” She added that a protest is scheduled to take place from the Kallady Bridge with demonstrators marching up to the Gandhi Statue and invited everyone to take part.