The military gets venerated by state leaders as saviors of the nation, while Tamils are fighting with them daily against militarization

Dr Vickramabahu

Friend of mine was disturbed when I said media freedom here is better than in Pakistan. “Even in Lanka, it is hard to criticize the military.  The military gets venerated by state leaders as saviors of the nation, while Tamils are fighting with them daily against militarization. Even the leaders of the government are afraid to hold them to account. The military thrives with impunity. Even former military political bosses like Gota lives untouched. The government that agreed to military sector reforms does not carry it. In Sri Lanka too the military is a state within a state. No journalist writes against the military. They only have respect to them. Read these news items to see how the military goes unpunished for grave crimes, with the blessing of the government leadership.” He said with despair. All this started with my statement to the press about the threat of abduction faced by Taha Siddiqui of Pakistan.

 Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called on the Pakistani authorities to do whatever is necessary to guarantee the safety of Taha Siddiqui, a well-known and courageous freelance journalist who narrowly escaped a kidnap attempt recently in the capital, Islamabad. Taha Siddiqui was on his way to the airport in the morning; a vehicle blocked in front of his taxi and forced it to stop. Ten or twelve gunmen got out of this and another vehicle pointed a rifle at the taxi driver and pulled Siddiqui from the taxi. They then threw him to the ground, beat him and threatened to shoot him if he continued to resist. Siddiqui nonetheless managed to get away by running across the expressway and flagging down another taxi in which he rode for a few kilometers and then sought refuge in a police station. “This kidnap attempt is extremely worrying in a country where the lack of security for journalists and impunity for crimes of violence against them is a structural problem,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

 I said “However according to RSF calculations on safety of media people, Pakistan placed at 139 while Lanka is below at 141. Lanka is today much safer, but it was a bad place for journalist during the previous fascistic regime of Mahinda. Perhaps the rating is still low as investigation and judicial processes are not yet completed for the murder of Lasantha and the disappearance of Pradeep Eknaligoda. On the other hand, though Siddiqui has been harassed and threatened for months; as a courageous journalist whose investigative reporting, has implicated the military when appropriate. In Pakistan criticizing the armed forces is very dangerous for journalists. It was similar during the Mahinda regime, but we have come out of such military violence at least in the south. Hence we must urge the RSF to reassess the situation in Lanka.”

This comment of mine was answered by the note that I mentioned above. I had to agree with my fried that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) were dismayed to learn that Sri Lanka’s national intelligence chief, Sisira Mendis, who is accused of serious crimes against journalists during the final stages of its civil war, was on the Sri Lankan delegation that met with the United Nations Committee against Torture (UNCAT) in Geneva recently.

Then, Deputy Inspector General Mendis oversaw two police units, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and the Terrorism Investigation Division (TID), during the final phase of the Sri Lankan civil war from March 2008 until June 2009. A UN investigation accused both units of torture and sexual violence during the period that Mendis was in charge. Clearly RSF estimation went down because of poor performance under the PTA.

 It is the duty of all democratic organization in Lanka too, to urge the Pakistan authorities to make every effort to guarantee his safety. We are told that last May, Siddiqui received several threatening phone calls from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), an interior ministry offshoot, in which he was repeatedly ordered to report to the FIA’s counter-terrorism department for questioning. However Siddiqui avoided. This recent events show that step was well-founded.

A very well-known reporter, Siddiqui is the Babel Press bureau chief in Islamabad, a position that includes being the correspondent of France 24 and World Is One News (WOIN). Unlike in Lanka, the army is a state within the state in Pakistan. It is often impossible for the media to cover a story properly with mentioning the military; because of frequent cases of intimidation of journalists.

 Pressure from the international human rights movement brought human rights and press freedom increasingly to the political agenda of numerous countries and diplomatic negotiations. All countries in the Indian subcontinent, SARC also were pressed to improve press freedom and humanrights conditions. Originally, most such pressers came from France and the UK. In the 1970s American organizations moved beyond rights for Americans to partake in the international scene, and around the turn of the century the movement became so global in character that it was no longer possible to ascribe leadership to any particular country. The global human rights and press freedom movement has become more expansive since the 1990s, including greater representation of women’s rights and economic justice as part of the human rights umbrella. Economic, social and cultural (ESC) rights gained new prominence while press freedom became a corner stone of such movements.

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