Sri Lankan President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has featured on the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) 2021 gallery of “predators of press freedom”.
RSF note that the gallery highlights heads of states “who trample on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily or inciting violence against them”.
They further add
“When they don’t have blood on their hands because they have directly or indirectly pushed for journalists to be murdered”.
Since coming to office, Rajapaksa has established a commission of inquiry into “political victimisation” which has called for exonerating senior government and military officials who are accused of egregious human rights violations. The commission has further called for those investigating these high-profile cases, and those who contributed evidence, to face punishment for “fabricating evidence”.
Listed in those high-profile cases are the deaths of numerous journalists, such as Prageeth Ekneligoda, where police have provided evidence of Rajapaksa’s role in their disappearance.
In their report, they note that Sri Lanka ranks 127th/180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index. Journalists routinely face threats of harassment, torture and even murder in Sri Lanka. RSF further highlight that “impunity for crimes of violence against journalists committed on Gota’s orders continues to be total”.
Commenting on Rajapaksa’s record, they note that he had gained the nickname “Terminator” due to “his role as overseer of a death squad known as the ‘white van commando’ because of the vehicles it used to kidnap and torture journalists, and in some cases execute them, on his orders”.
RSF further records that at least 14 journalists were killed or disappeared whilst Rajapaksa was the defence minister; a further 20 fled the country after being tortured or receiving death threats. Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) recorded that as least 44 journalists had been killed or disappeared from 2004 to 2010 alone. Most of those journalists were Tamil (41) and from the North-East. The true figure is thought to be much higher.
Commenting on the dire situation journalists in Sri Lanka face today they note:
“Warrants for the arrest of journalists have been issued, media outlets have been raided and searched, ploys have been used to disinform, and death threats have been made. Much of the Sri Lankan press is now censoring itself, either because of what Gota did in the past or what he is doing now as president”.
They further add that journalists face two threats:
“One is judicial, the probability that the police will come with warrants for their arrest. The other is physical, the probability that they will receive death threats, which the police will refuse to register if they try to file a complaint”.
“Either way, terror is back”.
Read more here.