IFJ Protests Against Intimidation of Journalists in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists, the global organisation of journalists representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, has called on the Chairman of Sri Lanka's largest and government owned newspaper group to apologise publicly for intimidation of two journalists involved in union activities.


The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon (ANCL) Chairman, Mr. Nalin Ladduwahetty reportedly ordered two journalists, Miss. Ruwanthi Kariyawasam, from Dinamina Sinhala language daily and Mr. Prasanna Fonseka from the Silumina Sinhala language weekend paper, to withdraw from the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) election of the positions of Vice President and Executive Committee Member respectively. The journalists jobs were threatened if they did not withdraw from the union elections, and they were offered favours if they did.


“The IFJ is extremely concerned that this is indicative of a pattern of harassment of ANCL journalists associated with union or association activities. We understand other journalists have been sacked or removed to low-level posts for no other reason than their union activities,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said today.


The IFJ has also called on the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and the Minister for Communications to intervene and censure the ANCL Chairman, demanding the public withdrawal of any threats against the journalists and a commitment to their ongoing employment free from harassment.


“Unless this situation is clearly rectified the IFJ will ask the International Labour Organisation to investigate under the terms of its Freedom of Association Committee,” said Warren today.


The Constitution of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka guarantees rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, rights ensured by international conventions to which Sri Lanka is a signatory. ANCL has no legal basis under Sri Lankan or international law to force the journalists withdrawal from association elections.


The IFJ demands an immediate and formal apology from the ANCL, and calls on the ANCL to publicly withdraw its opposition to the journalists contesting the elections and make a public and formal commitment to journalists right to organise, freedom of assembly and the right to stand for representative office.


“The IFJ calls upon the ANCL to make a commitment to press freedom and journalistic integrity, by not interfering in elections of independent journalist organisations,” said Warren today.


For further information, please contact Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668.



10 October 2003


Protest: Sri Lanka


The International Federation of Journalists is extremely concerned at the attempt by the Chairman of Sri Lanka's largest and government owned newspaper group, the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, to intimidate two journalists working for the group into withdrawing from elections for the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA).


The IFJ has protested to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and the Minister for Communications calling on them to intervene and censure the Chairman; and to the Chairman of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon over this fundamental breach of the journalists' rights to freedom of association, calling for the public withdrawal of any threats against the journalists and a commitment to their ongoing employment free from harassment.


The IFJ has protested to the Chairman of the Board of the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, Mr Nalin ladduwahetty and the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka in the following letters:



10 October 2003


Mr. Nalin Ladduwahetty,

Chairman,

The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.,

Colombo 10,

Sri Lanka.

Fax: +94 430 985



Dear Sir,


The International Federation of Journalists, the global organisation of journalists representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is deeply concerned over your attempt to force two journalists to withdraw from the elections of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA).


The SLWJA elections are to be held on 18 October. Among the candidates are two journalists from the state-owned Associate Newspapers Ceylon Limited (ANCL).


We understand that on 3 October, you ordered two journalists, Miss. Ruwanthi Kariyawasam, from Dinamina Sinhala language daily and Mr. Prasanna Fonseka from the Silumina Sinhala language weekend paper, to withdraw from the election of the positions of Vice President and Executive Committee Member respectively.


Allegedly, you threatened these journalists with their jobs if they would not withdraw from the election. When they refused, the offer of favours was put on the table if they withdrew from the election.


The IFJ is extremely concerned that this is indicative of a pattern of harassment of ANCL journalists associated with union or association activities. We understand other journalists have, since your appointment, been sacked or removed to low-level posts for no other reason than their union activities.


The IFJ reminds the ANCL that you have no rights or legal basis to intimidate journalists and force their withdrawal from elections. This action flies in the face of the rights to freedom of association and freedom of expression, both of which are guaranteed by the Constitution of Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka and are ensured by international conventions to which Sri Lanka is a signatory.


The IFJ demands an immediate and formal apology from your office and a public commitment to withdraw any opposition to the involvement of any journalists in the activities of their representative organisations at any level.


Unless this situation is clearly rectified the IFJ will ask the International Labour Organisation to investigate under the terms of its Freedom of Association Committee.


The IFJ calls upon the ANCL to make a commitment to journalists right to organise and to the press freedom and journalistic integrity that goes with such fundamental rights.


Yours sincerely,



Christopher Warren

IFJ President



The IFJ has protested to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wickremesinghe in the following letter:


10 October 2003


Hon Ranil Wickremesinghe,

Prime Minister of Sri Lanka,

"Temple Trees",

Colombo 3,

Sri Lanka.

Fax: +94 388 071 and 94 384 916



Hon. Imtiaz Bakir Markar,

Minister for Mass Communication,

Ministry for Mass Communication,

World Trade Centre,

Colombo 01.

Sri Lanka.

Fax: +94 440 488



Dear Prime Minister,


The International Federation of Journalists, the global organisation of journalists representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is deeply concerned over the attempt by the Chairman of the ANCL, Mr. Nalin Laduwahetti, to intervene force two journalists to withdraw from the elections of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA).


We write seeking your intervention as the ANCL Chairman is appointed by your Government and his actions in this case are in clear breach of both national law and Sri Lanka’s international obligations, including those associated with your membership of the ILO.


The SLWJA elections are to be held on October 18. Among the candidates are two journalists from the state-owned newspaper Associate Newspapers Ceylon Limited (ANCL).


We understand that on 3 October, the Chairman of the ANCL Mr. Nalin Laduwahetti ordered two journalists, Miss. Ruwanthi Kariyawasam, from Dinamina Sinhala language daily and Mr. Prasanna Fonseka from the Silumina Sinhala language weekend paper, to withdraw from the election of the positions of Vice President and Executive Committee Member respectively.


The Chairman threatened Mr. Prasanna Fonseka and Miss. Ruwanthi Kariyawasam with their jobs if they would not withdraw from the election. When they refused he talked of favours if they withdrew from the election.


The IFJ reminds the Government of Sri Lanka that it is both unlawful and inappropriate for the Chairman to interfere in independent elections of a journalist's organisation and urge that he be censured for his actions by your Government.


The IFJ has written separately to Mr. Nalin Laduwahetti demanding an immediate and formal apology and a public commitment to withdraw any opposition to the involvement of any journalists in the activities of their representative organisations at any level.


We have advised that unless this situation is clearly rectified the IFJ will ask the International Labour Organisation to investigate under the terms of its Freedom of Association Committee.


The IFJ reminds the Government of Sri Lanka that journalists, like all workers, have the right to freedom of association and that it has an absolute obligation to ensure that these rights are upheld.


Yours sincerely,



Christopher Warren

IFJ President




Recommended Action:


Send appeals to the Government of Sri Lanka


Condemning the attempt at intimidation by the Chairman of the ACNL

Demand a public apology and commitment to freedom of the press from the Chairman

Urging the Government to censure the Chairman for his actions

Urging the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure basic workers rights including freedom of association.



Appeals:


Hon Ranil Wickremesinghe,

Prime Minister of Sri Lanka,

"Temple Trees",

Colombo 3,

Sri Lanka.

Fax: +94 1 388 071 and 94 384 916


Hon. Imtiaz Bakir Markar,

Minister for Mass Communication,

Ministry for Mass Communication,

World Trade Centre,

Colombo 01.

Sri Lanka.

Fax: +94 1 440 488


Mr. Nalin Ladduwahetty,

Chairman,

The Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd.,

Colombo 10,

Sri Lanka.

Fax: +94 1 430 985


Please copy appeals to the IFJ Asia Office at ifj-asia@alliance.org.au