Media Release: Sri
30 August 2013
Journalists in Sri Lanka, represented by a
coalition of seven different organisations, yesterday met with the delegation
of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navaneetham “Navi”
Pillay, now midway through a week-long visit to the country.
Pillay and her delegation are seeking a first-hand
assessment of the climate for human rights and national reconciliation, well
over four years since Sri Lanka’s quarter-century long civil war was declared
The seven journalists’ organisations made a
strong case for foregrounding media freedom, the right to free speech and the right to information among the priority
areas in post-war Sri Lanka.
Though Sri Lanka guarantees the right to free
speech in its constitution and is a signatory to all relevant international
covenants, the seven media organisations informed the U.N. delegation, these
rights have been under severe threat since the last many years.
The threats faced which have been highlighted in
intimidation and threats of
reprisals, and the constant
danger of police
action. Much of the hostile rhetoric which is often the precursor to acts of
physical violence, is known to originate with official spokespersons speaking
The memorandum submitted to the U.N. delegation
speaks of one hundred and fourteen media practitioners and other citizens being
killed since 1981, in retaliation for their exercise of the right to free
speech. The trend has in fact been escalating, with thirty-four journalists
being recorded killed since 2005.
There have been several cases of journalists
being arrested, charged with criminal offences, including terrorism, and
prosecuted under harsh emergency regulations in force during the country’s
civil war. A number of media establishments have been targeted with arson
attacks, and political figures have been known to often put themselves in the
vanguard of mobs wreaking violence against journalists and the media.
Under these pressures, media employers have
often been known to subject journalists to unreasonable demands, often removing
those among them that are active in press freedom campaigns from their jobs,
suspending them or sending them on compulsory leave
In recent years, the Government has through
loyal elements in the business domain, been seeking to directly control media
organisations by buying them up, or conferring some undue privileges on them. A
number of websites publishing critical political commentary have been blocked
and their staff violently attacked on occasion.
With all this, the reign of impunity continues.
A specific recommendation by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission –
appointed by the Sri Lankan president after the end of the war – that credible
investigations should be carried out into all acts of violence against
journalists, remains unimplemented.
With the climate of intimidation being
pervasive, Sri Lanka’s journalists are compelled to adopt the survival strategies
of exile or severe self-censorship.
Sri Lanka’s journalists have urged the U.N.
delegation to strongly recommend that the Sri Lankan government implement a
series of steps to improve the climate for free speech in the country,
including ending hostile rhetoric against journalists and the media, the
enactment of a right to information law, and ensuring accountability for all
The organisations that signed the petition and
were represented at the meeting with the U.N. delegation were the Free Media
Movement of Sri Lanka (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association
(SLWJA), the Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Sri Lanka Tamil
Media Alliance (SLTMA), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), South Asian Free
Media Association – Sri Lanka Chapter (SAFMA) and Media Movement for Democracy
(MMD). The full text of the memorandum submitted and further details on the
discussions, could be obtained through Sunil Jayasekera (FMM) at +94-77-7751092
(firstname.lastname@example.org) or Dharmasiri Lankapeli (FMETU) at +94-77-3641111 (email@example.com).
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0950
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries
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