Sri Lanka: reporter targeted for Islamophobia coverage

The Sri Lankan government is investigating a veteran journalist who has recently written about anti-Muslim violence in the wake of the deadly Easter bombings last April.

According to Colombo-based media watch dog “Free Media Movement” (FMM), Sinhalese authorities are pursuing legal action under the provisions of the 2007 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) against Kusal Perera. A statement issued by the group urged all “responsible stakeholders to draw their attention” in order prevent abuse of the law. Perera is a senior journalist who writes both in Sinhalese and English.

“[He] has been recognized as a socially responsible professional journalist both locally and internationally,” the Free Media movement said. The FMM is a Sri Lankan journalist-led forum which was previously known as the “Standing Committee of Journalists” after it was formed in late 1991. It is a collective of journalists and media groups. Detailing the case, the group said the “Organized Crime Division” reported to the Colombo Magistrate Court regarding action to be taken against Perera. Perera on May 17 wrote a weekly column for the Colombo-based Daily Mirror “From Islamic terrorism to marauding Sinhala Buddhist violence” which revolved around the anti-Muslim violence in the country. Muslims faced severe hate attacks after nine suicide bombers carried out a series of blasts that tore through three churches and as many luxury hotels on April 21, killing over 250 people and injuring 500 others.

“On Friday the June 14th [Sinhalese] police officers attempted to record a statement from the editors of the Daily Mirror newspaper that published the article,” said the FMM statement. Mosques and Muslim-owned properties were attacked or set alight while one Muslim man was killed during the violence perpetrated in the aftermath of the Easter Bombings. The statement added that police would return to the newspaper’s office for a second attempt after they were unable to make a sufficient recording due to technical errors, and that they had acquired Perera’s contact information for a statement from him as well.

Condemning the police action, the rights group termed it a “serious threat to the freedom of expression and media and the pursuance of legal action under the ICCPR Act which includes provision to disallow bail, based on a complaint of an individual regarding the article published by a veteran journalist in a recognized print media, is a dangerous precedent.”

“The Free Media Movement urges all relevant stakeholders to intervene in averting this situation and for everyone who respect human rights to come forward to defeat such actions against the Freedom of expression and media freedoms,” it added.

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