The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) in expressing deep concerns about the circumstances under which a media rights activist and editor Saman Wagarachchi was forced to resign on May 8.
According to SLWJA, Wagarachchi, who is the editor of national newspaper Lakbima, was forced to resign due to political pressure exerted on the newspaper’s management by political leaders.
The owner of the newspaper Thilanga Sumathipala is a member of the Parliamant of Sri Lanka and the IFJ has been informed that Sumathipala had conceded to Wagarachchi that he had been put under pressure to remove him.
Wagarachchi was appointed the editor of Lakbima in June last year after returning from a ten-year stay in the USA during which he continued to campaign for press freedom and media rights in Sri Lanka. Last month, on April 9, he was detained and questioned for three hours by the criminal investigation bureau of police for the publication of a satirical photo caption.
The IFJ urges the Sri Lankan government to ease the suffocating situation for editors and journalists by providing a fair and free environment where they can work independently.
The IFJ said: “The ongoing disturbing pattern of harassment of journalists and editors in Sri Lanka has made for an unworkable situation for Sri Lanka’s media. The takeover of media ownership by political powers needs to be seriously addressed and condemned in the strongest way.”
IFJ affiliate the Free Media Movement continues to point to the fact that more than 80 journalists have fled the country since 2005, largely due to intimidation and political pressure.
The IFJ also stands in solidarity with the SLWJA and nine other Sri Lankan media organizations in their campaign for the Right to Information Bill.
The SLWJA recently launched a campaign on the eve of World Press Freedom Day on May 2 to put pressure on the government and the opposition parties to adopt the RTI Bill. Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia that does not have an Right to Information Act.
According to the SLWJA, although some opposition parties have tried to push a bill through as private motions, the government continues to obstruct it. The SLWJA is planning to launch a public campaign across the country.
The IFJ said: “The Right of Information is a vital and integral requirement for the functioning of a democracy and for a truly active and independent media. We remind the Sri Lankan government of its responsibilities to that functioning democracy by delivery of the bill and the ability for the media to do its job without interference.”
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0950
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