CPJ joins call for accountability in attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka

Military personnel take part in a rehearsal for the Independence Day Parade in Colombo on February 2, 2021. (Photo by ISHARA S. KODIKARA / AFP)

Fact Sheet
Report: Increased Attacks on Journalists in Sri Lanka & Continuing Impunity
On February 9, 2021 the Center for Justice and Accountability released a report on the current
crisis of impunity for violence against journalists in Sri Lanka, with input from the Committee to
Protect Journalists. A decade ago, the Sri Lankan government under President Mahinda
Rajapaksa undertook a systematic and deadly campaign to silence journalists and repress
freedom of expression. In 2014, Sri Lanka ranked among the top ten countries on CPJ’s impunity
index for the killing of journalists. Today, impunity for those attacks has given rise to a new
wave of repression under the new administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Human rights
and freedom of expression are again rapidly deteriorating: individuals investigating attacks on
journalists in Sri Lanka have been arrested or forced to flee the country, and journalists are again
forced to choose between exile and self-censorship. The Human Rights Council, set to convene
this month, has the opportunity to vote on a new resolution to promote accountability and take
action to ensure greater protection of journalists in Sri Lanka.
Ongoing Impunity in Sri Lanka for State Sponsored Violence Against Journalists
● From 2005 to 2015, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration launched an assault on the free
press, targeting journalists critical of the government and its security forces. The Ministry of
Defense, led by then-Secretary of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa, implemented this campaign
through its “white van commandos,” a team of special operatives that used white vans to
kidnap and murder journalists, and the “Tripoli Platoon,” a clandestine unit within the
Military Intelligence Division that surveilled and attacked journalists. At least four attacks on
journalists are linked to the Tripoli Platoon: including the murder of Lasantha
Wickrematunge, the abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr, the assault against Upali
Tennakoon, and the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda.
● Despite over a decade of promises by the Government, none of these high profile attacks
have resulted in accountability, and efforts to shed light on the abuses have resulted in
political interference, witness intimidation, and further retaliation.
● Following years of impunity, the perpetrators are back in power: the former leader of the
Tripoli Platoon has been promoted and other officials implicated in war crimes have been
reinstated to positions of command, including Lieutenant-General Shavendra Silva. Silva,
was sanctioned by the U.S. for “gross violations of human rights,” and Gotabaya Rajapaksa –
the former Secretary of Defense implicated in Lasantha’s assassination – was elected
president in 2019.
Increased Attacks on Journalists since President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s November 2019
● Under a renewed Rajapaksa government, attacks on journalists have increased dramatically.
Journalists have been interrogated, beaten, subject to unlawful searches and seizures and
forced to flee the country. Witnesses have been intimidated, police officers advancing
investigations of journalist attacks have been arrested, and state surveillance of journalists
has increased.
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Recommendations to Member States of the Human Rights Council:
● Given the Government of Sri Lanka’s refusal to take concrete steps to implement its human
rights obligations, including its duty to ensure that victims of state violence have a right to a
remedy, we urge the Human Rights Council to implement the recommendations made by the
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including passing a new resolution that
establishes a dedicated mechanism to collect and preserve evidence to support future
accountability processes, provides enhanced monitoring of the human rights situation in Sri
Lanka, and prioritizes support to civil society initiatives, particularly initiatives assisting
victims and their families.
● We also ask the Human Rights Council to recommend that the Government of Sri Lanka take
affirmative steps to prevent violence against journalists, including:
o To immediately cease harassment, surveillance, and attacks on journalists and current
and former law enforcement officials investigating crimes against journalists
o To promptly release former CID Director Shani Abeysekera, who had been
overseeing an investigation into violence against journalists prior to his detention
o To repeal legislation criminalizing criticism of the government
o To resume and provide resources for the stalled investigations into the death of
attacks of journalists such as Lasantha Wickrematunge and Prageeth Eknaligoda.
For more information on CJA’s work on behalf of the family of Lasantha Wickrematunge, visit:

Wickrematunge v. Rajapaksa

Or contact: Nushin Sarkarati, nsarkarati@cja.org
For more information on CPJ’s work on documenting attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka, visit:
Or contact: Aliya Iftikhar, aiftikhar@cpj.org



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