New Delhi: When Indian journalist Meera Srinivasan filed a story in October about an alleged plot to assassinate President Maithripala Sirisena, she probably had just a small idea of the storm that it would unleash.
Published in the Hindu on October 16, the story under the newspaper’s Colombo-based correspondent byline claimed that in a recent cabinet meeting, President Sirisena had alleged that the “Indian intelligence agency RAW was engaged in activities to assassinate him” but “Prime Minister Narendra Modi may not be aware of the plan”.
Even though the President’s Office denied that Sirisena said something of this nature, the Hindu has maintained that the information was confirmed by four ministers.
But just a few days later, agriculture minister Mahinda Amaraweera attacked Srinivasan and alleged that the four ministers who had confirmed to the correspondent that Sirisena had spoken about an alleged RAW plot were RAW agents themselves.
At a public meeting in Beliatta in Hambantota district, Amaraweera spoke about taking action: “We have to find out who these four minsters are. When this is confirmed I will expose them. Leaking information about what transpires in the cabinet is forbidden, and we have the right to take action.”
As Srinivasan wrote in her story, “This is not the first time a Sri Lankan leader has accused the Indian agency of interference. Following his poll defeat in 2015, former President Mahinda Rajapaksa held RAW among those responsible for the change in regime.”
In a recent release, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the Free Media Movement (FMM) – Sri Lanka have expressed concern over the intimidation of Srinivasan and urged the Sri Lankan authority to ensure that no further threat is made.
FMM Convener C. Dodawatta said: “The allegations against the Hindu correspondent Meera Srinivasan by the government and its supporters regarding her reportage about a statement made at the cabinet meeting go beyond the right of reply and have become a threat violating the media freedom and freedom of expression. The FMM feels that this baseless allegation against a Colombo-based foreign correspondent is an act of bullying and draw the attention of all concerned to respect the right of a journalist to conceal the source of information.”
“The IFJ is concerned by the Sri Lankan government’s approach towards the journalist’s sources. Witch-hunting sources of journalists and threatening action against them is a violation of press freedom and threatens media independence. The IFJ urges all concerned parties to respect the journalists’ rights and press freedom,” the statement from the body reads.
President Sirisena’s claim of the assassination plot came just days before Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was scheduled to visit New Delhi. Srinivasan’s report also claims that sources confirmed that there was a heated argument between Sirisena and Wickremesinghe “when a Cabinet paper on developing the Colombo Port came up for discussion. Sources said Mr. Sirisena vehemently objected to any Indian involvement in upgrading its east container terminal – a project that New Delhi has been keen to take up”.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) October 20, 2018
The damage control to keep India-Sri Lanka ties on steady ground after the serious allegations of the assassination plot, as The Wire has reported previously, included four press releases – three from Sri Lanka – and a phone call from Sirisena to Modi.
The very next day after the Hindu report, Sirisena reportedly spoke to Modi to “clear the air over the contention that he had blamed India’s intelligence agency R&AW for an alleged assassination plot targeting him”.
“Mr Sirisena said his words had been misquoted and distorted, and he denied having said that Indian agencies would be involved in the case in any manner,” MEA spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told the Hindu. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi appreciated his prompt action in clarifying the issue and initiating the call.”
On October 19, presidential adviser Shiral Lakthilaka said that the probe into the alleged plot must be expedited. He also said that Sirisena’s security has been heightened.
In her most recent article for the Hindu, Srinivasan has reported that the Sri Lankan authorities are seeking “Chinese assistance to tap evidence pertaining to the assassination plot”.
Srinivasan was first posted to Colombo in 2013 and is now in her second stint as a foreign correspondent there.