Former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga with Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan

Former Sri Lankan president Chandrika Kumaratunga with Chief Minister V. S. Achuthanandan-- DIPR photo

Most newspapers in Kerala ignored the news though it concerned their fraternity. It was not because it lacked news value. For the words had come from none other than former president of Sri Lanka Chandrika Kumaratunga. She spoke to the media at the Chief Minister’s Office in Trivandrum during a visit to Kerala. (The visit to V. S. Achuthanandan was described as a courtesy call).

She said that press freedoms were in peril in Sri Lanka. A large number of journalists had been killed in the last two years for making honest and legal criticisms. She herself feared for her life if she spoke freely though her own party was ruling the country.

The newspapers did not give much importance to these words though it came from former ruler of a neighbouring country. Though activities of the tigers in Kerala had often raised concerns in Kerala,the lack of freedoms in the neighbouring country hardly ever raised an eye-brow. Only Deepika reported her statement that the judiciary too could not function freely in her country.

Most of the killing of journalists in Sri Lanka too have not been reported  in India, even in the National media. Early this year, the outspoken editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickramatunga was done to death. Anticipating his murder, Wickramatunga had written an editorial about his (impending) murder which was published posthumously– something that made journalistic history. “No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism,” he wrote.

“Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried,” he concluded in his last editorial.

The list of persecuted journalists in Sri Lanka is long. Popular Sirasa Television reporter Paranirupasingam Devakumar was  killed, Keith Noyahr, a deputy editor at the English-language weekly The Nation, was abducted and beaten up, Iqbal Athas, the consultant editor anddefense correspondent of The Sunday Times, was threatened and forced to discontinue his column. Several journalists had been killed in Jaffna.

Many journalists have been imprisoned by the Government and news had been censored. The Government is also planning to revive the Press Council with the objective of suppressing the media.