Sri Lanka’s Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa- and brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa- has launched into an expletive ridden tirade against a Sri Lankan journalist over the publication of  story and threatened her with violence.

The journalist in question was Frederica Jansz, the editor of The Sunday Leader. Jansz rang Rajapaksa to ask for comment on a story. Rumours had been circulating that the state-run Sri Lankan Airlines were changing an aircraft on a scheduled flight to accommodate the Defence Secretary’s request to fly a puppy from Switzerland to Sri Lanka for his wife.

Over two telephone conversations, Rajapaksa abuses Jansz with foul language and threats.  The full transcript can be read here.

Rajapaksa ends the first conversation with abuse and a threat to sue the paper:

“…Janz: I called you to get your side of the story and to clarify this issue.

GR: You write one bloody word and I will sue you!!! I will sue the writer and your f…..g paper again!!

FJ: Mr. Rajapaksa are you threatening me?

GR: Yes! I am threatening you! Write every single word I have told you if you want – you write a bloody f…..g word and we will see…

FJ: Mr. Rajapaksa I called you as a journalist to inform you of what was happening and get your version but all you have done is abuse me in raw filth…
Rajapakse hangs up.”

When Jansz rings again, Rajapakse ratchets things up by talking about imprisoning and killing her:

GR: Yes I threatened you. Your type of journalist are pigs who eat shit! Pigs who eat shit! Shit, Shit Shit journalists!!! Ninety percent of the people in this country hate you! They hate you!!! You come for a function where I am and I will tell people this is the Editor of The Sunday Leader and ninety percent there will show that they hate you.

FJ: I don’t think so.

GR:  You don’t? That is your ego!! You are a shit, shit journalist. A f…..g shit. A pig who eats shit! I will go to courts!!! I will not withdraw the case on the MIG deal – this is how you wrote…

FJ: I had nothing to do with that story so I cannot comment.

GR: But I will put you in jail! You shit journalist trying to split this country – trying to show otherwise from true Sinhala Buddhists!! You are helped by the US Ambassador, NGOs and Paikiasothy – they pay you!!!

FJ: I wish.

GR: You pig that eats shit!!! You shit shit dirty f…..g journalist!!!

FJ: I hope you can hear yourself Mr. Rajapaksa.

GR: People will kill you!!!  People hate you!!! They will kill you!!!

FJ: On your directive?

GR: What?? No. Not mine. But they will kill you – you dirty f…..g shit journalist.’

Its language that would make even fictional, sweary spin doctor Malcom Tucker from ‘The Thick of It’ blush. Yet this is no blackly comic satire – but the dire reality of life for Sri Lankan journalists today. The tirade is a frightening and very public indictment of the Sri Lankan government’s combative attitude to a free press. It’s important to note the reason the Sunday Leader was calling was to give Rajapaksa a right of reply over a story about himself. Yet this is something the Sri Lanka government have continually denied their opponents, silencing critics through intimidation and violence.

The threats are all the more chilling given the recent history of The Sunday Leader. The paper’s previous editor, Lasantha Wikramatunga, was gunned down in 2009 in broad daylight. His murderers remain at large, with government links to his assassination left uninvestigated.

And of course, in 2006, Lasantha himself received a similar phone call from a member of the ruling family:

 “F**k your mother, you son of a bloody wh**e! I will finish you! I treated you well all this while. Now I will destroy you. You don’t know who Mahinda Rajapakse is. You watch what I will do to you!”

Since The Sunday Leader published the transcripts of the conversations, media rights groups Article 19 and the Committee to Protect Journalists have expressed concern for Jansz’s safety:

“The threat against journalist Frederica Jansz is the latest demonstration of the Sri Lankan government’s systematic attacks against independent and opposition-supporting journalists and media houses. They have showered scorn on journalists and shown a complete inability or unwillingness to prosecute perpetrators of violence toward and the killing of journalists”

 Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 executive director. 

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