Sri Lanka: MP murdered. media freedom attacked

On March 6, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) member of parliament K. Sivanesan was killed by a claymore mine while driving through a village in northern Sri Lanka on his way home from a parliamentary sitting in Colombo. Sivanesan had voted against a further extension of the state of emergency currently in place.

The remaining TNA MPs issued a statement accusing the Sri Lankan army of setting off the mine. It pointed out that two other TNA MPs had been murdered since 2005, along with two former MPs, a parliamentary candidate and several heads of local authorities.

Repression against the Sri Lankan media is also intensifying. On March 17, the army and police cordoned off the premises of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), the state-owned television company, to prevent trade union action resulting from a dispute with the government.

This dispute began in December 2007, when the minister for labour Melvyn Silva led a gang of thugs into the TV station to complain about its failure to report one of his speeches, leading to an on-air confrontation with station staff.

Since then, five SLRC staff members have been stabbed, beaten, or slashed with razor blades by unidentified men.

Union members planned to strike on March 17 to call attention to their claims of being targeted because of the dispute with Silva, but station executives declared a "holiday" and broadcast pre-recorded shows with a skeleton staff.

Subsequently a retired army major-general was appointed to the newly created post of "additional director-general (administration)", a move that the Free Media Movement said was "intended to intimidate the institution's journalists and other staff".

The SLRC is far from being a radical critic of the government of Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse. However, any critical reporting at all is unacceptable to the government.

Another recent attack on the media came with the arrests in early March of six people associated with the website .

These events exemplify the deepening repression in Sri Lanka. The main victims are the Tamil people, who are suffering as a result of the war waged by the Sri Lankan army against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, a group fighting for self-determination for the oppressed Tamil people of northern and eastern Sri Lanka.

However, ordinary people from other ethnic groups, including the Sinhalese majority, also suffer from the militarisation of society that accompanies the war. The Asian Human Rights Commission has said that "the mentality that is being created is that of a police state and not of a liberal democracy".