Human Rights in Sri Lanka
Concerns over safety of journalist Iqbal-Athas
Amnesty International Bulletin
28 May 1998
Further information on UA 49/98 issued 13 February 1998 - Death
threat / Fear of extrajudicial execution
Iqbal Athas, journalist
Serious concern continues for the safety of Iqbal Athas and his family
who remain under police protection subsequent to his attempted
abduction on 12 February 1998 by five gunmen who forcibly entered
his home threatening him and his family.
The failed abduction attempt, by men believed to be working on
behalf of the security services, followed continued periods of
harassment. This is believed to be connected to Iqbal Athas's work
as a senior journalist specializing in defence-related reporting and his
current investigations into corruption in the top echelons of the
security forces, particularly the Air Force. It is also linked to his
outspoken criticisms of some of the military actions undertaken in the
ongoing conflict between the security forces and the Liberation Tigers
of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It was discovered that vehicles used for
surveillance of his home were registered as being owned by the
Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
Following widespread condemnation, President Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga ordered a CID enquiry into the incident.
A ministerial statement was also issued which said that: "steps have
already been taken to ensure that the offenders are dealt with in
terms of the law, irrespective of position, rank or influence they may
wield in Sri Lankan society."
On 5 May, Iqbal Athas and a member of his household were able to
identify two Air Force officers, a squadron leader and a flight
lieutenant who had been taken into custody, as being involved in the
abduction attempt. At the time they were reportedly personal
bodyguards for the then Air Force Commander -- since forced to
retire, possibly as a result of the large-scale corruption in the Air
Force exposed by Iqbal Athas.
They were remanded in custody until 8 May but then released on bail.
Although the CID have stated that they intended to make more
arrests, none have so far been made. The CID have stated, however,
that further arrests will be made prior to the next court hearing
scheduled for 10 June.
Amnesty International welcomes the investigation being carried out into the
continuing harassment and attempted abduction of Iqbal Athas on 12 February
1998. Amnesty International urges the Sri Lankan government to take all
necessary steps during the course of the investigation to protect Iqbal
Athas and any other witnesses involved against intimidation or threats.
Human Rights in Sri Lanka