Reporting a conference titled ‘Different Worlds, Similar Threats’, jointly organized at the University of California by four media organizations and participated by journalists from different parts of the world, The News, the largest English newspaper of Pakistan, on Wednesday said: “If the black Prado is a sign of fear for Pakistani journalists for its frequent use in state-sponsored abduction, the word ‘white van’ is nightmarish for Sri Lankan journalists as they are used by intelligence agencies for abducting journalists and human right activists.” Iqbal Athas, the former defense columnist of Sunday Times, exiled in 2009, took part in the conference giving a presentation.
As for white vans syndrome in Sri Lanka, Iqbal said ‘unknown but unarmed men’ who come in white vans kidnapped more than five journalists since 2006 and a number of other human rights activists.
“So much so, the ‘white van syndrome’, because of the strong of white coaches the abductors used, became a fearful word. It forced some journalists to leave Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka’s Military Intelligence is accused of these abductions, Mr. Iqbal Athas said, and this practice has been going on since 2009.
The conference was jointly organised by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Article 19 and Institute of Americas.
Reporting from San Diego, the journalist of The News, Umar Cheema wrote Wedensday that although journalists from Russia, Latin America, Balkan and other regions also gave out presentations of the facts, Iqbal’s case has had a close resemblance of what happens in today’s Pakistan.
“Like Pakistan, the critics of human rights abuses are branded traitors there, messaging services are scrutinised, journalists are abducted and killed and the entire exercise is carried out with full impunity.” “Pakistan and Sri Lanka have excellent defence relations. Other than Pakistan that gets the major component, China trains Sri Lankan army in addition to providing ammunition and other defence needs of the force,” the article by Umar Cheema further said.
“So much so that the government’s minister for public relations Dr Mervyn Silva made a front-headline through a warning that he would break the limbs of journalists for making statements against the country,” the article further said.
“The latest assault on freedom of expression has come through an order by Ministry of Defence directing the mobile telephone operators to seek clearance for sending out SMS news on matters relating to ‘national security’.”