The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the news that the Commander of Army 512 Brigade in Jaffna summoned the editors of three Jaffna dailies, the Uthayan, Walampuri, and Yal Thinankkural, on November 6, and warned them not to publish any news critical of the Jaffna military.
According to an IFJ affiliate, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the three newspapers had published an interview with the former Jaffna district political leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Mr. Eelamparthi, which was critical of the military presence in Jaffna, and that also dealt with the humanitarian crisis in the Jaffna peninsula.
“It is a terrible situation when the military resorts to underhanded threats to try and censor and control the news, and this blatantly contradicts last month’s assurances from the defence department that no military or police officer has the right to censor or threaten the media,” the IFJ President Christopher Warren said.
“It is time the government of Sri Lanka made good on its promises and took immediate action to ensure this sort of arbitrary intimidation, particularly in the Jaffna region, does not continue,” Warren said.
During Monday’s meeting, the military commander reportedly reminded the editors of earlier "advice" to them on the same subject, warning them to not publish statements from the LTTE in their newspapers.
According to the FMM, Jaffna-based Tamil language dailies have faced various harassments and threats during the last few months, with four media workers killed, newspaper warehouses set on fire, and one newspaper forced to close down after its managing editor was murdered.
These latest attacks on freedom of expression come less than a month after the Government Defence Spokesperson, Keheliya Rambukwella, made a commitment to the International Fact-Finding and Advocacy Mission to Sri Lanka (who visited Sri Lanka from October 9-11), that military personnel and police officers throughout the country would not be involved in influencing content.
This International Fact-Finding and Advocacy Mission, was followed up with an IFJ-coordinated mission of editors and journalists from South Asia who also met with Mr Rambukwella on October 24, and presented him with a letter from Christopher Warren, President of the IFJ, furnishing details of media workers killed during the last two years. Mr Rambukwella assured the delegation that he would look into each of the cases mentioned.
“The escalating violence in Sri Lanka has created an unsafe environment for journalists, and the government has been far too idle when it comes to protecting media freedoms and journalist safety, especially in the war-torn Jaffna peninsula,” Warren said.
“Any attempt to control or censor news media is not only a deliberate violation of freedom of expression, but will only result in an ill-informed public, and will further aggravate the worsening crisis in Sri Lanka,” the IFJ President said.
“The IFJ again calls on the Sri Lankan government to lead the way towards a peaceful and open Sri Lanka, by putting an end to the targeting and censorship of media, and launching a full investigation into these threats, attacks and murders,” he said.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries