Media Release: Sri
28 August 2013
The International Federation of Journalists
(IFJ) extends its support to affiliates and partners in Sri Lanka, in their
effort to secure the active involvement of the National Human Rights Commission
(NHRC), in addressing long neglected issues of media freedom in the country.
The Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ-affiliate,
coordinated the meeting with the NHRC Chairman, Justice Priyantha Perera, on
August 27, at which a letter was handed over with the explicit endorsement of
six other media freedom bodies, including the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’
Association, also an IFJ affiliate.
The letter refers to the most recent violations
of press freedom, such as the threats and attacks against journalists covering public protests against water pollution in
a village near Colombo on August 1; the armed intrusion of August 24
into a journalist couple’s home in Colombo, done with obvious intent to
intimidate; and the continuing attacks on the personnel and premises of a Tamil newspaper based in the
northern city of Jaffna.
The letter also draws attention to the many
impediments and the outright official hostility that journalists faced when
travelling in the north of the country to report on the process of
rehabilitation of internally displaced persons in regions worst affected by the
civil war that ended in 2009.
Aside from these more recent instances, the FMM
and its partners remind the NHRC that longstanding issues involving even acts
of lethal violence against journalists have remained unredressed. The columnist
and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda went missing in January 2010 and aside from
frequent utterances of surpassing irresponsibility by official spokespersons
about him being in voluntary exile abroad, there has been little by way of a
credible official effort to locate him.
The killing of the Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in January 2009 and the
brutal assault on SLWJA leader Poddala Jayantha in June that year – both
carried out in broad daylight in the near environs of Colombo city – remain
uninvestigated, with no charges laid against any of those responsible.
The FMM has also strongly reminded the NHRC that
all efforts by journalists bodies to seek remedy for past atrocities and dispel
the climate of impunity, have been met by a campaign of “false allegations and
provocative statements made by state media against journalists, press freedom
activists, human rights defenders and others”.
Sri Lanka’s journalists have through their
representative bodies, asked the NHRC to inquire into the “progress or lack of
progress” of police investigations into the cases cited, and to make a
“preliminary update” available by October 31.
The joint representation to the NHRC also
requests the constitutional watchdog of human rights to use all available
powers to keep parliament briefed on the progress of investigations and to
prevail upon the government to enact the empowering legislation that it has for
long years been in default on: such as a right to information law.
Sri Lanka’s journalists have also called for a
repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which exerts a chilling effect
on the free and fair practice of journalism and continues to be in force
despite the civil war being long since declared over.
“We urge the NHRC to pay due attention to the
diligent documentation produced by the FMM and other partner organisations
regarding the dismal media freedom situation in Sri Lanka”, said the IFJ Asia
“The human rights record in the country and in
particular, the media freedom situation, continue to be under serious scrutiny,
despite the formal acceptance by the Government of Sri Lanka of a series of
far-reaching recommendations by a commission appointed by the President after
the civil war, to report on national reconciliation measures”.
“The NHRC should act decisively at this stage to
check the growing sense of drift and disillusionment among the country’s
journalists and wider civil society”.
“Journalists and human rights defenders in Sri
Lanka look forward to enjoying the peace dividend that was promised at the end
of the country’s civil war in 2009”.
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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