Political group threatens Sri Lanka’s state-owned media

Supporters of the United National Party (UNP) gathered outside the state-owned Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL), also known as Lake House, threating security while demanding the removal of the posters of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa on December 13. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates the Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka in condemning the mob behaviours and demanding investigations into the incident.

The incident took place after the Supreme Court’s’ ruling that the dissolution of the Parliament by President Maithripala Sirisena was unconstitutional. A group of UNP supporters gathered outside the Lake House offices and demanded that posters placed on the building wall supporting former President Mahinda Rajapaksa be removed. They also insisted that the management of Lake House must be returned to the UNP following the ruling. Police intervened and removed the UNP supporters.

Earlier, newsrooms at Lake House were targeted and editorial staff harassed following the controversial appointment of Rajapaksa as the new Prime Minister by Sirisena on October 26, 2018. After Rajapaksa was sworn-in, members of the unions loyal to his Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) moved in to take control of state-owned media institutions.

Lake House publishes three daily, three weekend, five weekly, two monthly and three annual publications in Sinhala, English and Tamil.

C Dodawatta, the FMM convener, said: “The FMM is of the view that such incidents in the country will further undermine the hopes of democratic co-operation. Similarly, the conduct of persons belonging to any political group is a threat to democracy and media freedom. The FMM call on those responsible to take legal action and make investigations against such threatening behavior against Lake House.”

The following day, UNP Parliamentarian Dr. Harsha de Silva tweeted apologizing for the ugly incident and assuring action against those involved.

The IFJ said: "The IFJ condemns the incident outside the Lake House in Colombo, Sri Lanka on December 13. Since the political crisis began on October 26, the media institutions in the country have been targets of politically motivated actions, which undermines the independence of the media as well as the safety and security of journalists and media houses. The IFJ urges the Sri Lankan government to step up to ensure the environment whereas journalists can report freely without safety concerns.”

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