FJ defends threatened Sri Lankan journalist – while Tamil masses starve & young are forced to work

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Hungry Tamil children queue for meagre rations
Hungry Tamil children queue for meagre rations

INTERNATIONAL Federation of Journalists (IFJ) in a media release Wednesday said that it is alarmed by threats made against the safety of the family of senior Sri Lankan journalist Gamini Pushpakumara.

‘We call upon the Sri Lankan police and security agencies to take immediate measures to investigate the source of the threats and to extend all necessary protection to Pushpakumara’s family,’ IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

‘Unfortunately, recent actions by the Sri Lankan authorities indicate that they remain disinclined to take action against the use of coercion and threats of violence that attempt to silence journalists who courageously speak the truth to power,’ the report said.

The full IFJ statement reads: ‘The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed by threats made against the safety of the family of senior Sri Lankan journalist Gamini Pushpakumara. “We call upon the Sri Lankan police and security agencies to take immediate measures to investigate the source of the threats and to extend all necessary protection to Pushpakumara’s family,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

‘Pushpakumara, who is an executive committee member of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and secretary of the programme producers’ union of the state-owned Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), was summarily dismissed from employment at SLRC after presidential elections in Sri Lanka in January.

‘The dismissal followed Pushpakumara’s active leadership in the union’s demands that the SLRC follow specified norms of fairness in its coverage of the presidential election campaign. Pushpakumara has since left his home town of Horana, near Colombo, for safety reasons. But his family remains, and on the evening of July 12, had two visitors who spoke in a threatening manner to his wife Waruni Balasooriya.

‘They alleged that Pushpakumara was a “Sinhala tiger’’, a tacit supporter of the Tamil secessionist movement that was defeated in May 2009 after a quarter-century-long civil war. Ms Balasooriya was also warned not to report the threat to police for fear of violent retribution. The IFJ has learnt that a complaint was nevertheless filed at the Horana police station on July 14.

‘“As Sri Lanka faces increasing international scrutiny over its human rights record and the newly re-elected president’s intent to pursue a policy of national reconciliation, the safety and well-being of media personnel will be a crucial benchmark against which progress will be assessed,” White said.

‘“Unfortunately, recent actions by the Sri Lankan authorities indicate that they remain disinclined to take action against the use of coercion and threats of violence that attempt to silence journalists who courageously speak the truth to power.”’

Meanwhile, uprooted civilians in Kodikaamam are starving due to a reduced food ration. TamilNet reports that 2,307 uprooted civilians from 715 families staying in Raamaavil camp in Kodikaamam in Thenmaraadchi are complaining of starvation as they are given only rice, of a very poor quality, as dry food relief ration. They are forced to sell the poor quality rice as cattle fodder and buy rice for consumption, they further said.

The relief dry food ration given under the World Food Programme had been suddenly suspended and former Jaffna Government Agent K Ganesh has announced that the supply of dry food relief ration would be soon resumed, following media reports exposing the sudden suspension, sources in Jaffna said.

A new scheme in which recipients of relief dry food ration were expected to take part in village development work had been introduced prior to the suspension of supply. In this context the World Food Programme authorities are reluctant to issue relief dry food ration to the families in Raamaavil camp, the sources added.

The reduction in the supply of relief dry food which earlier included sugar, dhal, wheat flour and cooking oil has affected the families hard. ‘It is difficult to get any work and earn money to buy food for our elders and children and the poor quality rice is not fit for consumption; we are in a miserable and helpless state,’ the men and women in Raamaavil camp said.

The families staying in Raamaavil camp are uprooted civilians from Vadamaraadchi East and certain areas in Mullaiththeevu district where people are not allowed to resettle in their own places. Also, resettled children in Vanni are having to abandon school to earn a living.

Most of the resettled families having lost their earning male members either killed, disappeared or detained in prison after arrest or surrender, are seeing their children being forced to drop out of school in order to earn a living for the family, an education officer in Vanni said.

The number of children above fifteen years old, in the resettled families, abandoning school has shot up drastically, though most of them would like to continue schooling if only they had the means, he further said.

Politicians and others who had been shouting hard for the rights of children during the war have become silent on this grave issue, Sitsabesan, a local NGO representative in Vanni said.

‘Trade now flourishes in the newly opened public market in Ampaa’lku’lam in Ki’linochchi district but you will be surprised to find that most of the traders in this market are below the age of eighteen,’ Sitsabesan said.

A headmaster of a school in Ki’linochchi said: ‘Though these teenagers very much wish to continue their education, they have to work to prevent their family members from starvation and death.’ Kaliyazhakan, age 17, who had lost his parents in the war had sought refuge with his mother’s sister’s family. The head of the family had been arrested and detained in prison by Sri Lanka Army (SLA) in the final days of the war on Vanni. Kaliyazhakan is now a trader in the Ampaa’lku’lam public market. He told TamilNet that he has to work to look after the family of his aunt.

16-year-old Kumuthan, who is also a trader in the above market, told TamilNet that he does not know what had happened to his parents who went missing during the war and that he has to work to look after his two sisters. Kumuthan said he cannot even think of going to school in the present conditions but added that he will go to school if somebody would help his family.

On the whole, most of the teenagers in the resettled families in Vanni are forced to look after their families by working in motor repair garages, eating places and similar enterprises which have mushroomed in Vanni.