IFJ Condemns Vilification of Lawyers for Sri Lankan Newspaper


The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is shocked

at a recent article posted on the website of Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Defence, branding as “traitors” five lawyers appearing in a

case of contempt involving the Sunday Leader newspaper.


The article, titled

“Traitors in Black Coats Flocked Together”,

names five lawyers who appeared for the Sunday Leader at a hearing in

the Mount Lavinia

court near Colombo

as having “a history of appearing for and defending” separatist guerillas of

the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The article features pictures of

three of the lawyers.


“We have observed in recent times that this manner of public

vilification of individuals for being supposed sympathisers of the LTTE has

often provoked physical attacks on them by vigilante groups,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan

White said.


“The IFJ calls upon the Sri Lankan President to publicly

repudiate the sentiment expressed in the article and ensure that it is removed

from the official website of the Defence Ministry.”


The Sunday Leader,

edited by Lasantha Wickramatunge until his murder in January, has for long been locked in a defamation case

brought by Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse.


After Wickramatunge’s murder,

the newspaper agreed during a hearing of the case that it would not publish

material similar to that which had brought the action against it.


The contempt case that the Sunday Leader now faces

reportedly involves another report involving the Defence Secretary, though on a different subject.


“It is a principle of natural justice that the newspaper

should be able to seek sound advice and be represented by competent legal

counsel in this case,” White said.


The IFJ stands by the strong stand taken by its affiliate,

the Free Media Movement (FMM), and

other professional bodies in Sri

Lanka on the matter.


“We urge Sri

Lanka’s President to turn the page on the

bitterness of the long civil war against the LTTE and actively seek to restore

the freedoms that have deteriorated alarmingly in recent years.”


For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919


The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide