The state owned television station – Independent Television News (ITN) – have been using their platform to attack human rights defenders. The targets of these attacks have included prominent heads of NGOs, lawyers, journalists, clergy, academics and activists in exile, the leader of the main opposition party, the United National Party (UNP), and smaller opposition parties.
Despite describing itself as a “public company under state jurisdiction”, the state media is widely reputed to be under the control of the government, refusing to broadcast content critical of the Rajapaksa regime.
Amongst the chief accusations levelled against journalists, NGOs, and opposition politicians is that they have been conspiring to overthrow the Sri Lankan government at the behest of the “LTTE diaspora” – a catch-all bogeyman term for external critiques of the regime who the Government accuse of supporting the now defeated and disbanded rebel group the Tamil Tigers. Singled out for specific accusations is the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF); a non-profit organisation, dedicated to the support of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.
The FNF has been accused of funding these activities in order to install a pro Tamil Tiger administration. Other organisations mentioned by ITN have included Transparency International, the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), and the Federation of University Teachers Association (FUTA). No evidence was presented by the ITN in relation to any of the allegations levelled.
Many activists were mentioned by name and their photographs displayed on television while the report accused them of actions akin to treason. As Sri Lanka is a country in which at least 43 media workers have been killed in the last six years, and in which not a single killer of a journalist has been brought to justice, this kind of rhetoric can be described as reckless endangerment at best.
Sri Lanka’s Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions (FMETU) has compiled a report listing the individuals mentioned in the ITN content in question, as well as providing links to a number of incidents observed within the last month. You can read it here.