Sri Lanka military to probe itself over alleged torture of Tamil journalist

By Athula Vithanage

Justice for crimes against freedom of expression in Sri Lanka was once again confirmed a faraway dream when the soldiers accused of beating and torturing a Tamil journalist were handed back to the military itself for investigations.

On 28 Sunday, the three young soldiers were handed over to police after the Mullaitivu Press Club led a protest demanding authorities take urgent action against military men of the 59 divisions who allegedly clobbered Vishwalingam Vishwachandran with a palmyra frond wrapped in barbed wire.

“He suffered serious injuries in his stomach, arms, and legs and admitted to the Mullaitivu district hospital undergoing treatment. The security forces have forcefully seized his video camera and mobile phone and damaged his motorcycle,” said the Mullaitivu Press Club (MPC) in a statement issued in Sinhala, Tamil and English.

A bleeding Vishwachandran told colleagues who rushed to the scene that he was punished for filming the name post “Mullivaikkal”. He pointed out the assailants who were caught on camera hurriedly walking away.

The war-torn coastal area is home to thousands of unmarked graves where Tamil civilians lost their lives in Sri Lanka’s 2009 bloodbath. The 59th Division, which was involved in capturing the area from Tamil Tigers, has been named in a UN investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights during the final days of the Sri Lankan civil war.

On Sunday, Tamils in the north and the east were gearing to pay respects to their kith and kin who fell in the battle against the Sri Lanka security forces. Vishwalingam was travelling around filming public efforts despite police and military moves to disrupt the November 27 “Maveerar Naal” commemorations.

The day after the attack on journalist Vishwalingam, the MPC launched a protest demanding prompt action against the perpetrators. Journalists took to the streets in several towns in the north and east calling for justice. The journalist was assaulted while a UN special envoy was visiting the country to study labour conditions.

“This attack on the independent journalist when the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms on slavery Tomoya Obokata is in Colombo shows the callous disregard of the military to freedom of expression,” said MPC.

“While attacks against Tamil journalists continue unabated complaints even up to the President have gone unattended. This culture of impunity continues to put journalists and freedom of expression into serious hardship. If action has been taken earlier and the guilty held accountable such continued action against journalists would not continue.”

Apparently feeling the heat, military brass in Mullaitivu handed over three of their men to the police.

Within a few hours Eeriyakandure Gedara Vipula (36), Dinuka Sandaruwan Wijeratna (20) & Thiwanka Sangeeth Dhananjaya (21) accused of grievous bodily harm and torture were released on bail.

Local journalists were told that the inquiry will be conducted by the military itself.

Mullaitivu is the district in Sri Lanka with the highest concentration of troops with one armed personnel to every 2 civilians. Journalists in the area report on stories ranging from mothers of disappeared demanding answers from the military that arrested their loved ones to deforestation under state patronage.

They fear that the military investigating allegations against themselves is not going to deliver justice, but place their lives closer to harm’s way.

Despite restraining orders, heavy security and intelligence forces deployment, in a show of collective resilience Tamils in their hundreds congregated at the Mullivaikkal beachfront on the 27th to light a flame in the memory of their fallen martyrs.

Binduja Ilanchelian who had lost her brother to the war lit the flame. Although her husband who had also lost a brother in the war was also planning to be present, he could not. Peter Ilanchelian was arrested on his way to the memorial site and bundled into a police jeep amidst angry protests by Binduja.

He was not granted bail to pay respect to his brother.



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.