The following is a joint open letter of the International Federation of Journalists and other press freedom organisations addressed to President Mahinda Rajapaska of Sri Lanka over the situation of journalists in the country.
International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka, which is comprised of
representatives from the world's media community, is extremely concerned over
the ongoing spate of violent attacks against the media. In spite
of the military victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the
deterioration of the press freedom situation in the country has continued.
We welcome your recent statement ensuring the safety of Tamil-language media
outlets following a series of harrowing attacks and death threats against their
However, we believe that much needs to be done immediately to ensure that Sri Lanka's
journalists and independent news media in Sinhala, Tamil and English enjoy the
freedom and safety to which they are entitled in a democracy.
The International Mission would therefore like to propose to you and your
Government a 11-point plan to redress the perilous press freedom environment in
1. Combat impunity through the creation of a Special
Prosecutor's Office for the investigation of crimes against the media with
full autonomy to investigate attacks on and assassinations of journalists and to bring those
responsible to justice. Several
journalists have been killed since 2007, and yet none of these murders has yet
2. In accordance with international
standards on media freedom and freedom of expression, put in place effective
measures to ensure that all journalists can work safely, in particular in areas
where local council elections will soon take place such as Jaffna and Vavuniya.
3. Release imprisoned journalist J.S.
Tissainayagam and his colleagues B. Jasiharan and V. Vallarmathy, who have been
detained since March 2008 under the Emergency Regulations, and were later
charged under the 2006 Prevention of Terrorism Act. Withdraw all unjustified
complaints and lawsuits brought by the police and government against
journalists and freedom of expression activists and repeal legal provisions
which may be used to punish journalists for engaging in legitimate media work,
including those found in anti-terrorism legislation.
4. Release the first results of the
investigation into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2009.
5. Provide full and unconditional access to the IDP camps for all media in
order to report freely and fairly on the reconstruction process since the end
of the war. The media can play a vital role in making sure that the
reconstruction and reconciliation efforts are genuine and have real impact to
bringing lasting peace.
6. Repeal the Press Council Act No. 5
of 1973, which includes powers to fine and/or impose criminal measures,
including sentencing journalists, editors and publishers to lengthy prison
terms. Instead, allow the media to strengthen the existing self-regulatory
mechanism, in accordance with democratic practices.
7. Introduce training for the police, army and
the intelligence agencies on freedom of expression and the important role of
the media in a democratic society. Since 2007, security forces have been
allegedly responsible for kidnapping, beating and threatening at least 30
journalists and media workers.
8. Award financial compensation to journalists
who have been arbitrarily detained, beaten or otherwise harassed by security
the UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom and Expression to visit Sri Lanka, in
line with your Government's commitments to the Human rights Council in 2006.
10. Work with the state-owned media to ensure
the immediate end to direct verbal attacks and threats against independent
journalists and press freedom activists, which has in particular promoted the
unethical spread of accusations portraying the media as LTTE-supporters in a
concerted hate campaign that has put several journalists lives in unnecessary danger.
11. Introduce structural legal reforms to create
an enabling environment for a free and independent media including by
transforming existing state mediainto
independent public service media, with guaranteed editorial independence, by
adopting a strong right to information law and by overhauling broadcast
regulation to put it in the hands of an independent regulator with a mandate to
regulate in the public interest.
We are aware that the task you face is enormous,
but we hope that your conviction to ensure a prosperous and democratic future
for Sri Lanka will lead you
to make it a priority to strengthen press freedom as a vital pillar in the
reconstruction of a unified Sri
as leading press freedom organisations across the globe, hope that you will
give your personal attention to these matters and that you will encourage your
government to consolidate a climate in which journalists can work freely and
October 2006, June 2007 and October 2008 delegations from the International
Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka,
which is comprised of twelve international press freedom and media development
organisations, undertook fact-finding and advocacy missions to Sri Lanka.
organisations joining this statement from the International Mission group
to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Media Support (IMS)
News Safety Institute (INSI)
Press Institute (IPI)
Without Borders (RSF)
World Association of Newspapers and News
World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC)