Journalists in Sri Lanka Meet with U.N. Human Rights Head, Call for Action on Media Freedom

 

Media Release: Sri

Lanka                                                                                  

30 August 2013       


Journalists in Sri Lanka, represented by a

coalition of seven different organisations, yesterday met with the delegation

of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navaneetham “Navi”

Pillay, now midway through a week-long visit to the country.

 

Pillay and her delegation are seeking a first-hand

assessment of the climate for human rights and national reconciliation, well

over four years since Sri Lanka’s quarter-century long civil war was declared

over.

 

The seven journalists’ organisations made a

strong case for foregrounding media freedom,  the right to free speech and the right to information among the priority

areas in post-war Sri Lanka.

 

Though Sri Lanka guarantees the right to free

speech in its constitution and is a signatory to all relevant international

covenants, the seven media organisations informed the U.N. delegation, these

rights have been under severe threat since the last many years.

 

The threats faced which have been highlighted in

various public statements by Sri Lanka’s journalists over the years, include killings and disappearances, physicalattacks, verbal

intimidation and threats of

reprisals, and the constant

danger of police

action. Much of the hostile rhetoric which is often the precursor to acts of

physical violence, is known to originate with official spokespersons speaking

through state-owned

media.

 

The memorandum submitted to the U.N. delegation

speaks of one hundred and fourteen media practitioners and other citizens being

killed since 1981, in retaliation for their exercise of the right to free

speech. The trend has in fact been escalating, with thirty-four journalists

being recorded killed since 2005.

 

There have been several cases of journalists

being arrested, charged with criminal offences, including terrorism, and

prosecuted under harsh emergency regulations in force during the country’s

civil war. A number of media establishments have been targeted with arson

attacks, and political figures have been known to often put themselves in the

vanguard of mobs wreaking violence against journalists and the media.

 

Under these pressures, media employers have

often been known to subject journalists to unreasonable demands, often removing

those among them that are active in press freedom campaigns from their jobs,

suspending them or sending them on compulsory leave

 

In recent years, the Government has through

loyal elements in the business domain, been seeking to directly control media

organisations by buying them up, or conferring some undue privileges on them. A

number of websites publishing critical political commentary have been blocked

and their staff violently attacked on occasion.

 

With all this, the reign of impunity continues.

A specific recommendation by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission –

appointed by the Sri Lankan president after the end of the war – that credible

investigations should be carried out into all acts of violence against

journalists, remains unimplemented.

 

With the climate of intimidation being

pervasive, Sri Lanka’s journalists are compelled to adopt the survival strategies

of exile or severe self-censorship.

 

Sri Lanka’s journalists have urged the U.N.

delegation to strongly recommend that the Sri Lankan government implement a

series of steps to improve the climate for free speech in the country,

including ending hostile rhetoric against journalists and the media, the

enactment of a right to information law, and ensuring accountability for all

past violations.

 

The organisations that signed the petition and

were represented at the meeting with the U.N. delegation were the Free Media

Movement of Sri Lanka (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association

(SLWJA), the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Sri Lanka Tamil

Media Alliance (SLTMA), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), South Asian Free

Media Association – Sri Lanka Chapter (SAFMA) and Media Movement for Democracy

(MMD). The full text of the memorandum submitted and further details on the

discussions, could be obtained through Sunil Jayasekera (FMM) at +94-77-7751092

(sunil.jayasekara@gmail.com) or Dharmasiri Lankapeli (FMETU) at +94-77-3641111 (dlankapeli@gmail.com).

 

 

 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

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