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

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