19 February 1998


Protest over threats made to journalist

Incident details

Iqbal Aththas



(FMM/IFEX) - On 18 February 1998, FMM, together with Prajathanthra - The
Foundation for Freedom of Expression, carried out a protest in Colombo's
busy Lipton Circus, demanding an immediate investigation into the recent
threats made to journalist Iqbal Aththas, the defense correspondent for "The
Sunday Times." The protest, made up of over 300 journalists and other human
rights activists, took place for over one hour in one of the busiest sectors
of Colombo.

**Updates IFEX alert dated 16 February 1998**

The protest was organized to denounce the 12 February raid on Aththas' home
by five armed men. Aththas believed the armed men were part of Sri Lankan
security services based on the regulation issue revolvers they carried.
Aththas writes a weekly column on defense in "The Sunday Times" and it is
alleged that the raid on his house was in connection with critical comments
he has made about the leadership of the Sri Lanka Air Force (see IFEX alert).

The following is the statement issued by "Prajathanthra" - the Foundation
for Freedom of Expression, on the armed threat to Iqbal Aththas:

We declare our strongest condemnation of the threat to the "Sunday Times"
defense correspondent, Mr. Iqbal Aththas and members of his family and
household, by armed men suspected to be from the security services. Such
attacks, especially if coming from the security services, place the lives of
journalists at stake and can also pose a major threat to the freedom of
expression and democracy itself.

The information, as given by Mr. Aththas, is reminiscent of the manner in
which members of the police working under the previous government, abducted
Richard de Zoysa, who was later murdered. We are aware that the prevailing
conditions of war, and the emergence of a war mentality could make members
of the armed services think that they should be free from criticism, and
even function as though governed by their own law. However, the development
of this attitude should be prevented by the civil administration to which
the armed services are accountable.

We are aware that the Minister for Media, Mr. Mangala Samaraweera, has
issued a statement unreservedly condemning the attack and apologizing for it
on behalf the government. He also says that President Chandrika Kumaratunga
has already issued strict instructions to the relevant authorities to ensure
that the offenders are dealt with under the law, irrespective of the
position they hold or influence they wield.

Such a reaction is most welcome. However, it is now necessary to maintain
vigilance that these directions are in fact carried out, and that this ugly
incident not remain yet another unsolved crime. All journalists'
organizations and other organizations of civil society interested in
freedom of expression, should take every step possible to ensure that those
who carried out this shameful act against Mr. Iqbal Aththas and his
household are firmly dealt with and that such actions are not repeated in
the future.


Sri Lanka

IFEX members working in this country 1

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