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JDS condemns attacks on journalists following Sri Lanka Easter Massacre

Journaists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) denounces the spiteful hate campaign directed against two journalists from non-Sinhala communities in the aftermath of Sri Lanka's Easter Sunday carnage.

Tamil journalist Thusian Nandakumar, an editorial member of Tamil Guardian website and Azzam Ameen, a Muslim, working as the  reporter for the BBC's Sinhala Service have become the latest victims of a wave of vicious, targeted abuse on social media.

"To threaten a journalist by exposing his or her identity and thereby opening him or her to physical harm, points to the basest of motives: to silence someone with violence who cannot be silenced in any other way", JDS said in its statement.

Full statement follows:

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) is appalled and outraged at the hate, intimidation and invective directed at journalists Thusiyan Nandakumar and Azam Ameen.  The attacks were  was triggered by an interview given by Nandakumar, an editor of Tamil Guardian website, to the BBC following a series of explosions in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday that left more than 250 dead. 

The murderous blasts in three churches across the country packed with worshippers celebrating Easter and in three five-star hotels in Colombo as tourists and locals were at breakfast, is being blamed on Muslim radicals by the Government of Sri Lanka and echoed by some foreign governments.

Few days later Islamic State (ISIS) has reportedly claimed responsibility for the massacre.

In the BBC interview, Nandakumar’s reaction to Sunday’s events was that they were “horrific and unprecedented.”  To the next question on whether Sri Lanka was a “religiously tolerant place,” he replied in the negative, going on to list fraught relations between the country’s majority Sinhala-Buddhists and the Tamils, Muslims and Christians.

But that did not deter an avalanche of tweets and other commentary by Sri Lankans on Nandakumar’s views, implying that he had accused Sinhala-Buddhists of causing the carnage. “I am getting sworn at, threatened with violence, called racial slurs and other filth – including being called a terrorist,” Nandakumar tweeted. At least one person went so far as to point out where Nandakumar worked. Meanwhile, an online petition denouncing Nandakumar’s appearance on the BBC programme is also being circulated with over 50,000 persons signing on.

First and foremost, the charges levelled against Nandakumar is not founded on fact. He did not blame the recent bombing on Sinhala-Buddhists, but quite correctly spoke about the adversarial relationship Sinhala-Buddhism as a set of ideas and the institutions that it inspires have had with Tamils, Muslims and Christians. He also criticised militarisation in North and East Sri Lanka and the tensions and fears it has stoked in the Tamil population there.

A blinkered vision

Second, what Nandakumar expressed was his opinion, to which he is entitled. If those reviling him have their way, their opinion and interpretation of events alone would have to be allowed, while everything else is censored.

Such a blinkered vision of seeing the world will rob the richness from a debate generated by a diversity of opinion. The ideas this generates will not be able to grapple with the enormous challenges facing Sri Lanka that demand honest discussion and bold solutions.

However, Nandakumar has been wrongly accused of blaming the Easter Sunday attacks on Sinhala-Buddhists.

The BBC itself confirms that Nandakumar did not make such an allegation.

Azzam Ameen, meanwhile has been targeted for 'biased reporting'. Unfounded accusations have been levelled at him on social media and in political platforms that he too attributed the series of bombs to Sinhala Buddhist extremists.

Social media posts with these accusation carry photographs of Ameen, thereby identifying him physically. Adding to the vitriol, Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa of the ultra-Sinhala nationalist National Freedom Front, denounced Ameen for "tarnishing Sri Lanka’s image" and implied that because he worked for the BBC his allegiance was not entirely to Sri Lanka.

Azzam Ameen has denied the accusations on social media urging those attacking him to refer to his coverage.

"I have not said or reported anything like this. It is clearly maliciously fabricated. Whatever I report is posted on my Twitter and FB page. I urge everyone to use them as reference of my reporting," he tweeted.

However, the frenzy has not faded away.

Following the offensive mounted by his detractors, Ameen, a Muslim says he is fearful of stepping out of his home because he could be identified and attacked.

To threaten a journalist by exposing his or her identity and thereby opening him or her to physical harm, points to the basest of motives: to silence someone with violence who cannot be silenced in any other way.

JDS urges authorities to curb these unfounded attacks against Thusian Nandakumar and Azzam Ameen on social media platforms, and proactively stop that hatred spilling into the streets so that opinion-makers and journalists would be allowed to do their job and have their say without hindrance.

JDS also urges the BBC management that has a duty of care towards its journalists, to take its responsibilities seriously and provide the required protection to its staff.☐



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.