Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Letter to Nanda Mallawaratchchi

Jakarta, 25 January 2007

Major General Nanda Mallawaratchchi
Sri Lankan Ambassador to Jakarta
Jl. Diponegoro No. 70 Menteng
Jakarta 10310
Tel (62-21) 314-1018, 316-1886, 3190-2389
Fax (62-21) 310-7962

Dear General Mallawaratchchi,

I am writing this letter to raise my concern about the safety of my dear friend, Iqbal Athas, the defense correspondent of the Sunday Times in Colombo. Last week, Athas sent an email to scores of journalists worldwide, saying that he feels intimidated and threatened after the publication of his report into an obscure arms deal between the Sri Lanka government, the government of Ukraine and a shady company in the UK. His security guards, who had been assigned earlier nearly ten years ago by the Sri Lankan government, were withdrawn without notice on Saturday 18 Aug. 2007. I am writing this letter to ask you asking Colombo to return the guards to Athas’ house. I think it wills a loss for both his newspapers, and more importantly, for the societies in Sri Lanka if something serious is to happen to Athas.

Athas and I have known each other since 1995 when meeting in a Hong Kong seminar. We frequently meet each other, as we are members of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists since 1999. In March 2004, both of us joined a delegation organized by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists to visit Dhaka and to call upon the Bangladesh government to vigorously investigate and prosecute all those who murder, assault, or threaten the country’s journalists.

In December 2005, my son Norman and I had a one-week vacation in Colombo, staying at the Athas’ house. Norman befriended Jasmine, Iqbal’s only daughter. They told me the saga on 12 Feb. 1998, when five armed men raided their three-story house. At approximately 21:00, as Athas was watching television with his wife and then seven-year-old Jasmine, the five armed men forced their way into the house and assaulted a household watchman and the family cook at gunpoint. A man put an automatic pistol to Athas’ head and demanded that he go downstairs. Jasmine screamed and she very probably saved her father’s life. Norman and I witnessed how policemen guarded their residence. The threat against Athas was very real.

That story reemerged again last week when I read Athas’ email. He told me that he had been evacuating his family. For more details about the story, you could click the Sunday Times. I sometimes also write stories for his newspaper. He is also the CPJ's 1994 International Press Freedom award winner.


Andreas Harsono
Jalan Raya Kebayoran Lama 18 CD
Jakarta 12220
Tel. +62 21 7221031 Fax. +62 21 7221055
Weblog www.andreasharsono.blogspot.com

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