Sri Lanka: Soldiers, bankers and monks intimidate journalists and activists

By Kithsiri Wijesinghe

Journalists and human rights activists carrying out their duties in Sri Lanka are increasingly coming under threat by military personnel, bank officials and Buddhist monks. 

The most recent threats were levelled at journalists in the north and the south covering peoples action against authorities.

Ishara Danasekara, the co-editor of was threatened and harassed by a group of Buddhist monks when she was covering the sentencing of a belligerent Sinhala nationalist monk, in the suburbs of Colombo.

Galagodaaththe Gnanasara, who leads the extremist Buddhist Brigade (BBS) was found guilty of criminally intimidating International Women of Courage Award recipient Sandya Eknaligoda, at a court in 2016.

Since 2010 Sandya is in and out of courts in a relentless campaign to find her journalist husband Prageeth Ekneligoda, missing since January 2010.

The co editor Ishara was obstructed by monks at the Homagama court premises on June 14 when she was positioning herself to photograph the BBS chief being escorted to the prison bus, said activists Ruki Fernando, who himself was threatened.

“I was threatened & harrassed today when covering the story for @vikalpavoices outside the Homagama MC by thug monk supporters of Ganasara,” tweeted Ishara Danasekara with footage of another monk taking a photograph.

The same monk addressed by another as ‘Samiddhi’ was caught on camera threatening Ishara and several others.

Island wide unrest

Once prison authorities bussed away the BBS chief, the group of monks led by Magalkande Sudatta marching in protest angrily threatened island wide unrest.

The same day a journalist in the northern Tamil region had been threatened with death by a senior officer of a financial institution.

Freelance journalist Kanapathipillai Kumanan was covering a protest by hundreds of women in the northeastern district of Mullaitivu urging micro-finance companies to write off their debts.

The march was part of a north-wide protest against unbearable debts that has led to several deaths.

Unable to pay back their loans at a very high interest, at least fifty-nine in the north have taken their lives during the past year, says Antony Canisius a civil activist from northern Sri Lanka.

A further 19 in the east have committed suicide.

Journalist Kumanan had reported how officials of the Arpico Finance Company were filming the indebted protesters in an intimidating manner.

Death threat

Later in the day, the manager of the finance company, who is also a local politician had threatened the journalist with death for publishing the story.

“If finance company managers can threaten journalists with such arrogance, we can imagine how they intimidate desperate women who are in the clutches of these microfinance institutions,” said Kumanan who has reported the incident to police.

During the past six months the Mullaitivu Media Forum (MMF) has recorded security personnel intimidating at least three other journalists carrying out their work in the highly militarized district.

One of their leading members had been threatened by a military officer while reporting hardships of a remote hamlet.

The freelance journalist was speaking to residents Muththayankattu who complained of elected representatives failing to visit them.

Another journalist Kunaratnam  Premaraj had been threatened by two people in civilian clothes when he was covering the day to day life of resettled Tamils in Keppapulavu.

The journalist is certain that the two were military officials as they spoke in Sinhala, the dominant language of the occupying army, unfamiliar to the region.

In February, Shanmugam Thavaseelan working for Colombo based Asia Broadcasting Corporation was harassed by military while covering government moves to indefinitely occupy a burial ground in Alampil.

Following a complaint by the journalist, Commanding officer of the 24th battalion of the Sinha Regiment promised the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRSCL) to stop the intimidation of journalists.

Worst affected

Condemning the continuing threats, the MMF has called upon the government to stop its military from harassing journalists.

It reminds the government that journalists of the north and the east were the worst affected during the war.

“Some were killed and some have been abducted and disappeared,” says MMF Secretary Vishwalingam Viswachandran in a statement.

“Some who escaped attempted murder, survived with severe injuries. Others have left their jobs and fled abroad. In the recent period the situation has increasingly become worse and created a very tough environment for journalists.”

The JDS has recorded 44 deaths and disappearances in Sri Lanka from 2004 to 2010.

The clear majority of victims are Tamils.☐



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.