The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned that last week’s introduction of new public security and anti-terrorism measures in Sri Lanka is a further indication that the country’s steady retreat from a free and open society is continuing.
According to IFJ affiliate, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the new measures, which build on those already in operation and were enacted on December 6 under the Emergency (Prevention and Prohibition of Terrorism and Specified Terrorist Activities) Regulations, have the potential to compromise freedom of expression as well as fundamental human rights.
“The IFJ shares the reservations of the FMM with regards to these regulations, which in their current, vague, state hold the potential for serious threats to journalists’ rights and freedom of expression,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said.
“We urge the Sri Lankan government to clarify the language and implications of the regulations and to ensure that issues of public security are properly weighed against those of fundamental rights and open democracy,” Warren said.
According to the FMM, the broad language used in the new regulations makes it difficult properly define the limits to the laws, which heightens the risk of censorship and breaches of press freedom and individual rights.
The FMM reported that the wide range of activities prohibited and the definition of terrorism left the door open for the criminalisation of an assortment of democratically legitimate activities – at the centre of which is the role of the media.
“Too often we have seen anti-terrorism legislation restrict freedom of expression, and given Sri Lanka’s history of abusing the power of emergency laws, the IFJ strongly urges the Sri Lankan government to make real clarifying changes to the new measures, and ensure the fundamental rights of its people will be protected,” the IFJ president said.
Pressures on media were further exacerbated by the president’s speech to the nation on December 6, when he stated that all parties and organisations, including media, must clearly choose a side between “a handful of terrorists” or “the common man”.
“A peaceful and free Sri Lanka will only come with an informed and aware public, and restrictive laws, divisive rhetoric and tightening of controls on the media will only push Sri Lanka further away from this ultimate goal,” the IFJ president said.
“The sphere for critical journalism in Sri Lanka is fast disappearing, and with many journalists forced to flee the country in fear for their safety, it is now more important than ever that the government act to protect the independence, safety and freedoms of the media, and pave the way for a peaceful resolution for the Sri Lankan people,” Warren said.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries