Friday, July 22, 2011

Colombo uses white-van to harass, threaten Radio Netherlands journalists

JDS News

The Radio Netherlands Worldwide (RNW) said on Thursday that two of its undercover journalists to Sri Lanka have been harassed and threatened using white-van, forcing them to abandon their mission half-way and return home for safety.

“Radio Netherlands Worldwide recently sent two undercover journalists to Sri Lanka. They wanted to see the post-conflict situation in the north and east two years after the bloody defeat of the Tamil Tigers. However they were “white-vanned” and forced to abort their trip and return to the Netherlands,” the RNW said on Thursday.

On an interview by the staff presenter Dheera Sujan after their return to Netherlands, the two journalists, who have faced the white-van threat, said on Thursday that their motive behind the visit to Sri Lanka was to find out the truth of the widespread claims “that the Tamils are still living under a lot of pressure and there are a lot of human rights abuses in the North and the East of the country”.

Police raid

They said that a team of ten police personnel, including the regional chief of police, has visited their hotel room on a late midnight and interrogated them at length in a threatening manner, after receiving a tip of their presence there.

“You can imagine, ten people coming into the hotel room in the middle of the night and interrogating -- it is quite intimidating,” said the male journalist, who is called as Philip considering the safety of the people they talked to in Sri Lanka.

White van

Another journalist, called here as Olivia said that a group of men in a white van have followed the bus they were travelling to another part of the country and waylaid them.

“They tried to rob and they succeeded partly in that. It was very scary,” she said.

Philip said that one of the four men has stolen their larger bag while the other man attacked Olivia and tried to rip the bag off her back.

“Whilst this was going on, another man jumped in front of the van wielding a gun waving it around. We wondered if this is just a straight forward piece of criminality. But everybody we’ve spoken to since then including embassy staff and NGO staff and journalists who have experience having lived in Sri Lanka - everybody says ‘you have been white-vanned’,” he said.

“This is an expression in Sri Lanka. This is how the authorities intimidate people, especially journalists. A gang of thugs who come along and either kidnap or in this case stage a robbery to make you feel very unsafe,” journalist Philip said.

Impact of Channel 4 documentary

“Anybody talking about the UN in Sri Lanka today run the risk of alerting the police to them, because the Sri Lankan government is very sensitive of any accusation of war crimes following the Channel 4 documentary which was telecast a few weeks ago,” he said.

Sri Lankan authorities have been routinely threatening, intimidating, harassing, kidnapping, torturing and killing local journalists in the past, but this is for the first time that they have targeted foreign journalists, that too using the notorious white van.

“We are coming into a new period in Sri Lanka. For the last few months, what is happening is a dossier being built by the international media, which could potentially lead to an international tribunal that will bring senior politicians and senior figures from the war and from the present day to book. I think that the powerful people in Sri Lanka fear that,” he said.

Rubbishing the government’s claim of successful progress of resettlement and rehabilitation, the Netherlands journalists said that the actual situation on the ground does not reflect any of that sort.

Ready to fight again

They said they managed to speak to at least nine former Tamil Tiger rebels who have been under “rehabilitation” and that they were “ready to take up arms again if the conditions under which Tamils have to live in the North and the East continued into the year ahead”.

“They said even though, they have no organisation and the Tamil Tigers or LTTE infrastructure that ran much of the north and east of the country for many years till the end of the war in May 2009 does not exist anymore, they still maintain that they would look to fight again without the support of the leadership and without Velupillai Prabhakaran,” Philip said.

“That spoke volumes of the state of despair that a lot of Tamils are still living in,” he said, adding that the victims were mainly expecting an international investigation.

He said that the ex-Tamil Tiger rebels have expressed willingness to face any such international investigation, which in contrast, was not the case for the Tamil Tiger leadership in the past. They refute liability on their side in the past.

Scared to talk

Commenting on her take on the plight of the people they have met, Olivia said that they were “very scared of the authorities, very careful of what they want to say and that’s why we also have to be careful in what we say about what we saw there”.

“The people are still in danger for meeting us and that says a lot about the state of the country at the moment,” she said.

“What happened to us and what we have been told that keeps happening to reporters who dig a little bit, who criticise the government little bit, show clearly that there has been a culture of impunity for a long time. Justice is something that we are used to in the west. We have a procedure. We can pursue people who do wrong to us but that does not exist in Sri Lanka,” Philip said.

Quoting various Human Rights reports including the one that was released last week, Philip said that there were hundreds of cases of torture, kidnap and murder by the Sri Lankan police.

“It is not going anywhere, nobody is looking at it. Nobody does anything about it and nobody takes it seriously. The culture of impunity is the biggest danger for a long lasting peace in Sri Lanka now,” said Netherlands journalist who has faced a very strange experience in Sri Lanka.

For more details: RNW team threatened in Sri Lanka


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