IFJ Welcomes Landmark Freedom of Expression Decision on Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, has welcomed the decision of the United Nations Human Rights Commission finding against the government of Sri Lanka in its use of criminal defamation against a Sri Lankan editor.

“This decision should be another nail in the coffin for criminal defamation. The days when journalists can be jailed for defamation should be coming to an end,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren today.

“It builds on the July decision of the Inter-American court which found that the criminal libel conviction of a Costa Rican journalist violated his fundamental rights,” Warren said.

On 26 August, the UNHRC found that Mr Victor Ivan, editor of Ravaya weekly, had been left in a state of “uncertainty and intimidation” by having inditements for criminal defamation left pending for several years and that this had a “chilling effect which unduly restricted the author’s exercise of his right to freedom of expression”, thus violating article 19 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Human Rights Committee decision calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to remedy Mr Ivan, publish the committee judgement and advise the committee how it will do this within 90 days of the decision.

Since 1993, Mr Ivan had been indicted numerous times for criminal defamation by the attorney general for articles published in his newspaper.

Mr Ivan claimed that these cases were designed to intimidate and harass him. In 1998, he applied to the Sri Lankan Supreme Court to have the inditements invalidated, but the Supreme Court refused leave to proceed with the application.

Ivan then took his case to the UN Human Rights Commission.

Sri Lanka repealed the criminal defamation law in 2002 following a drawn out campaign by journalists and press freedom groups.

“This decision shows that governments cannot go around threatening journalists with jail if they don’t like what the journalists are saying,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

Mr Ivan is convenor of the Free Media Movement in Sri Lanka.

Further information is available on in the IFJ Asia website at www.ifj-asia.org
For further information contact IFJ President Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668