Sri Lanka: Mass grave out of bounds for Journalists

By Kithsiri Wijesinghe

Journalists reporting ongoing investigations at a mass grave in war torn northern Sri Lanka were shocked to find the site being ruled off limits for them on the 50th day of excavations.

The Mannar magistrate has slapped an indefinite  ban on access to the Cooperative Wholesale Establishment (SATHOSA) premises where more than eighty skeletons have been already unearthed.

This order prohibits entering, photographing and filming at the grounds being excavated with relevance to case number B 232/ 2018 filed in Mannar court,” say injunctions in Tamil and Sinhala  seen by JDS, signed by Magistrate TJ Prabhakaran.

It says the ban has been imposed to ensure carrying out further investigations without disruption.

Fake news

The censorship on local and foreign journalists had been issued on 7 August upon a request by Mannar police,  says the lead investigator.

“Some newspapers have published false stories suggesting that an international team of journalists are planning to produce a documentary on the Mannar mass grave. This is not true," Judicial Medical Officer Saminda Rajapaksha told JDS by telephone.

"Earlier, we allowed journalists to visit the site for half an hour both in the mornings and afternoons on days of excavation. From now on, they will have no access to cover future investigations."

Police have been given the power to remove any journalist who approach the site, said Dr Rajapaksha.

"The sole authority for giving permission to the mass burial site is the Magistrate."

81 bodies

Local journalists fear the censorship might hinder coverage of vital discoveries.

"We need to bear in mind that this is a region where thousands in the custody of security forces have disappeared without trace and this mass grave could be a key to their fate," one journalist who preferred anonymity told JDS.

The government appointed body charged with establishing the fate of the disappeared is also  associated with the investigations.

"The OMP is providing financial support to the excavations at the mass grave in Mannar to ensure work continues uninterrupted,"  Office for Missing Persons (OMP) head Saliya Pieris has announced.

Investigators have found 81 bodies since excavations commenced in May.

Seventy six of them have been handed over to court custody.☐


Related news:

15.06.2018    Sri Lanka: Ten bodies found in Tamil area mass grave
27.06.2018   Excavations at mass grave with children risks closure
20.07.2018   50 bodies found in Sri Lanka mass grave, including children
27.07.2018   “Deep and unusual” lacerations on Sri Lanka mass grave bones
31.07.2018   Bodies of child and adult found side by side in Sri Lanka mass grave



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