June 2, 2009 / 12:26 PM / in 10 years

Stark warnings for those seen traitors in Sri Lanka

By Ranga Sirilal

COLOMBO, June 2 (Reuters) - A Sri Lankan rights group said on Tuesday it had received a threat accusing it of treason, the day after a media activist was beaten up in the latest episode in the country’s long history of politically tinged violence.

Press rights groups have warned that journalists seen as sympathetic to the defeated separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were at risk, and on Monday, media activist and journalist Poddala Jayantha was abducted and beaten. [ID:nB221508]

On Tuesday, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) in Colombo said a letter left at its office titled "Notice to the Traitors" talked about the military victory over the Tamil Tigers last month that ended a 25-year separatist war.

"That is through the dedication of the present government, fearless military commanders and heroic warriors born in our motherland. And also, through the sacrifice of their bones, flesh and streams of blood," said a copy of the letter provided by CPA.

Since the declaration of victory on May 18, anger from government backers has been directed at Sri Lankan journalists and activists seen as having supported the Tigers during a war that killed 6,200 soldiers in its last three years.

"This (victory) was achieved by defeating the activities of the wretched traitors like you who commit evil acts against Mother Lanka," the letter said, and warned the CPA to shut down for a week to honour the fallen.

CPA Director Paikasothy Saravanamattu told Reuters he had reported the letter to police and the presidency.

"We will continue to do our normal work, because we are not doing anything illegal," he said.

CPA in 2007 successfully sued to stop the government from ordering Tamils who had moved into the capital Colombo back to their home areas as part of a security crackdown to ensure the LTTE did not infiltrate the city with suicide bombers.

This week, government officials in state media have warned they were investigating journalists believed on the payroll of the LTTE, listed as a terrorist group by more than 30 countries.

"It most appears journalists have been attacked after it has been alleged they had connections with the LTTE. After that you can expect these. It may or may not be paramilitaries," said Rajpal Abeynayake, editor of the independent weekly newspaper Lakbima News.

Sri Lanka has a long history of politically linked attacks and death squads, which have surfaced periodically over the course of three insurgencies since the Marxist Janatha Vimukti Peramuna (JVP) first took up arms against the state in 1971.

That conflict erupted again and was crushed violently in 1989, and the LTTE had fought a full-fledged civil war since 1983. Politicians, activists and journalists have been killed throughout that span.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has vowed to find those guilty of rights and media abuses, and his government denies press freedom groups’ criticisms that such attacks are never prosecuted.

"We have no intention of harming or assaulting any media men. We don’t have any hand in it. We are doing investigations to find out who these people are," Minister of Mass Media and Information Anura Priyadarshana Yapa told Reuters.

The government and its allies have accused some activists, journalists and aid agencies of supporting pro-LTTE stances in pursuit of donor funds, and some reporters of falsely claiming abductions and threats to build a case for political asylum.

At least one editor was killed this year, and other journalists have been assaulted, kidnapped or jailed. Many accused of being critical of the state have fled the island. (Writing by Bryson Hull; Editing by Jerry Norton)

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