COLOMBO: Dozens of pro-government activists blocked ethnic Tamil journalists from holding a training programme in Sri Lanka yesterday, a media rights group said.
Journalists from the northern Jaffna peninsula, a former war zone, had travelled to Colombo for an electronic media workshop.
“The organisers were forced to stop the programme because of intimidation by dozens of protesters,” said Sunil Jayasekera, spokesman for the Free Media Movement (FMM), the country’s main media rights organisation.
“We were concerned about the safety of the journalists and that is why the training was called off.”
“They carried placards saying that we are supporting (separatist) Tamil Tigers (guerrillas),” Jayasekera told reporters.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has accused Sri Lanka of keeping up a policy of harassing journalists despite the end of fighting between Tamil rebels and the largely Sinhalese army.
Rights activists said the 16 Tamil journalists had been harassed on their way to Colombo as well. They were stopped by the military and the police at two locations and detained for several hours after being accused of transporting cannabis.
Tamil media reports quoted the journalists, in turn, as accusing the military of planting a packet of drugs into their vehicle while it was being checked at a military checkpoint in the island’s north.
Police detained the driver of the vehicle and later freed the journalists after questioning them for hours.
Military spokesman brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya denied security forces had framed the journalists and insisted that they searched the vehicle on a tip-off that it was transporting narcotics.
He also denied that the military was linked to the demonstration outside the Sri Lanka Press Institute, the venue for the training of the ethnic minority Tamil journalists.
The FMM accused the military of being behind a new wave of intimidation that was unseen even during the height of fighting between the army and Tamil rebels from 1972 to 2009 during Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict.
FMM’s Jayasekera said he also received death threats over the telephone for holding a press conference to denounce the latest harassment of Tamil journalists.
Murders of more than a dozen journalists and media workers have remained unsolved for the past 25 years.