Sri Lanka: Death Threats Against Journalists Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq

Front Line: Protection of Human Rights Defenders

On 22 October 2009, human rights defenders Ms Frederica Jansz and Ms Munza Mushataq received identical death threats by post, both of which had been hand-written in red ink. Frederica Jansz is Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader, and Munza Mushataq is the newspaper's News Editor. The founder and former Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, Mr Lasantha Wickramatunga, was murdered in January 2009, three weeks after receiving a similar death threat which had also been written in red ink.

The threatening letters were post-marked on 21 October 2009, and both letters included text saying “if you write any more, we will kill you, [and] slice you into pieces”. The journalists reported the letters to Sri Lanka's Inspector General of Police, and also to local police in the capital, Colombo. However it has been reported that no action has been taken by the authorities to date. Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq publicised the threats in the Sunday Leader in an editorial entitled, “And Now They Come For Us” on 25 October.

The threats against Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq are believed to relate to the Sunday Leader's coverage of a video which allegedly shows Sri Lankan soldiers executing Tamil prisoners. The video was broadcast by Channel 4 television in the United Kingdom in August 2009. On 18 October 2009 the Sunday Leader published a front page article regarding a report which claimed that an analysis of the tape had concluded that the footage had not been tampered with or edited. This followed declarations by the Sri Lankan government that the video had been faked. Munza Mushataq wrote an article in which it was stated that Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), an NGO investigating claims of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in the Sri Lankan conflict, is carrying out an independent investigation through a yet undisclosed forensic company in the United States. The Sunday Leader article published interim conclusions from the report.

The death threats follow previous harassment of personnel from the Sunday Leader. In September 2009, the web page of the Media Centre for National Security, which operates under the ambit of the Ministry of Defence, carried an article refuting certain statements made to TV network /al Jazeera/ by Frederica Jansz in relation to the Channel 4 video. The article used terms such as “prostituting and prostitute.” In May this year, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa brought a fresh case against the newspaper and against Frederica Jansz as editor, alleging that they were in contempt of an ongoing court case for having carried a profile on him days after the government brought to an end the civil war in Sri Lanka. Two weeks later, after a court hearing on the case, five lawyers who appeared for the Sunday Leader were named as ‘traitors’ by the government’s Defence Ministry web site.

Front Line previously reported the death of the journalists' colleague, Lasantha Wickramatunga, on 9 January 2009 after he was shot by unknown men on his way to work. It is believed that the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga was directly related to his activities as editor of the Sunday Leader and his vocal criticism of government policies relating to the conflict in Sri Lanka.

Front Line believes that the threats against Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq are directly related to their work in the defence of human rights, particularly in their criticism of the Sri Lankan authorities. Front Line sees this as part of a pattern of ongoing harassment against the Sunday Leader and its employees. Front Line is seriously concerned for the physical and psychological integrity of Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq.

Front Line urges the authorities in Sri Lanka to:

1. Carry out an immediate, impartial and thorough investigation into the death threats against Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

2. Guarantee the security and physical and psychological integrity of Frederica Jansz, Munza Mushataq and all employees of the Sunday Leader;

3. Ensure that all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, carrying out their legitimate work in the defence of human rights, are able to operate free of restrictions, including judicial harassment.

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Frontline: Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Posted on 2009/11/04