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Sri Lanka's Genocidal War - '95 to '01
Gunmen threaten journalist, Iqbal Athas...
"On 12 February 1998, five gunmen, suspected to be connected to the security forces, forcibly entered the home of Iqbal Athas and, after threatening him and his family, attempted to abduct him. Amnesty International is seriously concerned for his safety, and fears that his attempted abduction may be due to his activities as a journalist.
In the incident, one of the gunmen held a gun to the head of Iqbal Athas and threatened to 'break his bones' if he made a noise. His wife, seven-year-old daughter and their home help were locked into another room. As the gunmen attempted to leave with Iqbal Athas they suddenly departed in a hurry stating they might have gone to the wrong house. However, at the time they had entered the house the gunmen had reportedly threatened and assaulted the gateman at gunpoint, saying they had 'come to see Iqbal'.
The police were informed of the incident and took a statement. Around two to three hours later the gunmen returned but, seeing a presence in the house - several journalists had arrived in the meantime - left again. After Iqbal Athas spoke to the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence security was finally provided.
The Minister of Media and Telecommunication has reportedly issued a statement condemning the incident on behalf of the government. He stated that the president has instructed relevant authorities to ensure that offenders are dealt with by law, irrespective of their position and influence.
Iqbal Athas is a senior journalist specializing in defence-related reporting. He writes for the Sunday Times, a Colombo newspaper, and Jain Weekly. In a weekly column on defence and security-related matters in the Sunday Times, called Situation Report, Iqbal Athas has been investigating and reporting on corruption in the top echelons of the security forces, particularly the Air Force. He has also been critical in his writing of some of the military actions undertaken in the ongoing conflict between the security forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
In October 1997, Iqbal Athas reproduced in his Situation Report column the findings of a Presidential Committee investigating the crashes of 16 aircraft of the Sri Lanka Air Force. The Committee, which handed the report to the president, was reportedly scathing of the Air Force Commander over alleged irregularities. In the aftermath of this, state media in mid-November repeatedly telecast a so-called confession by a member of the LTTE, who spoke about translating Colombo-based newspapers and made specific mention of the Situation Report. The state-run Sunday Observer also reproduced a set of graphics of Sri Lanka Air Force planes that first appeared in the Situation Report and were later used in an LTTE publication, Viduthalai Pulikal, thereby suggesting that Iqbal Athas was, through his writing, passing military information to the LTTE.
In this context, his house came under surveillance in July 1997. After raising the matter with President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the police were informed. They reportedly established that vehicles registered in the name of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) were being used for the surveillance. Surveillance of his home went on for around three weeks and was, apparently, an attempt to identify his sources of information. Some of those surveilling were seen openly noting down the car number plates of visitors to his house. Following further complaints to the President and the Media Minister, the surveillance stopped for a while, but no action is known to have been taken against those responsible, despite promises by the authorities that these incidents would be investigated.
Amnesty International is deeply concerned about the death threats and
attempted abduction on 12 February 1998 against Iqbal Athas. Amnesty urges the Sri Lankan
government to carry out a full and impartial investigation into the continuing harassment
and intimidation of Iqbal Athas, apparently by members of the security forces, and to
bring an immediate halt to it.Amnesty International further asks that those responsible be
identified and appropriate action be taken against them. (Amnesty International UA 49/98 Death threat/Fear of extrajudicial execution 13
February 1998 )