The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins
press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka
in calling on President Mahinda Rajapakse and the Government of Sri Lanka to
put an immediate end to the climate of impunity that has allowed a long campaign
of intimidation and violence against independent journalism in Sri Lanka.
The IFJ stands
in solidarity with the movement of press freedom organisations and Sri Lankan civil
society in demanding that the Government allow space for free public debate,
for plurality of opinions and open discussion in Sri Lanka. These conditions are essential
for Sri Lanka’s
return to peace and democracy.
urges Sri Lanka’s
Government to revoke its decision in June to reactivate the 1973 Press Council
Act and calls for the immediate release from jail of senior journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who
was convicted on August 31 on charges accusing him of terrorism for the content
of his reporting on human rights issues.
The IFJ is
deeply worried that the Press Council Act re-introduces stringent provisions
against press freedom. It allows for journalists to be prosecuted for contempt
and sentenced to extended periods in prison, and prohibits publication of
materials including government documents, matters related the armed services
and national security and economic policy.
General Secretary Aidan White has condemned the reintroduction of the Act as “a
worrying retreat from an agreed compact that the media is best served by
self-regulation rather than a coercive imposition of the government’s will”.
commends its affiliates, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working
Journalists’ Association (SLWJA) and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade
Unions (FMETU), and fellow members of the “Sri Lanka Five” press freedom
movement - the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil
Media Alliance (SLTMA) - for the unity and courage they have shown during the years-long
crisis for the media in Sri Lanka.
further supports the efforts of a broader coalition between these five
organisations and the Editors’ Guild of Sri Lanka and the National Forum of
Journalists to initiate broader civil action to meet the challenges of
post-conflict reconciliation in Sri
country where journalists contend with murder, assault or imprisonment for
independent reporting on matters of great public interest cannot boast of upholding
democratic freedoms,” White said today.
imperative that the Rajapakse Government take concrete steps now to overturn
the measures it has implemented to gag free public dialogue and debate,
including the immediate withdrawal of the Press Council Act and by ensuring that
perpetrators of violence against journalists are brought to justice.”
efforts to defend media rights in Sri Lanka come as the Rajapakse Government
shows little sign of relenting in its campaign of hostility against local and
foreign media and journalists’ organisations, even after declaring victory
against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on May 19.
murder of Sunday Leader editor-in-chief
Lasantha Wickrematunga on January 8, 2009, many leading journalists and press
freedom activists fled Sri
Lanka in fear of their lives. No arrests
have been made for the murder of Wickrematunga, and many activists remain in
February 26, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, editor of the Tamil-language daily Sudar Oli, disappeared in a“white van” abduction. Police initially
denied any involvement, but then claimed Vithyatharan was a “wanted person” and
was being detained by police. He was held without charge until a court ordered
his release on April 24.
On June 1,
unknown persons viciously assaulted senior journalist activist Poddala
Jayantha, who has since been elected President of the SLWJA. Jayantha’s
injuries will likely leave him with lifelong disabilities. The assault was
preceded by public statements by government spokesmen inciting violence against
Jayantha. No arrests have been made and the government spokesmen have not been
compelled to rescind their comments.
31, Tissainayagam, who had been held in custody since March 2008, was sentenced
to 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment under Sri Lanka’s draconian Prevention of
Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations. He is one of few journalists to
be convicted in a democratic country under terrorism-related charges on the
basis of his or her professional work. The matter is under appeal.
Tissainayagam’s colleagues, N. Jesiharan
and Valamarthi, continue to face trial on related charges.
stands firmly with all journalists and press freedom defenders in Sri Lanka who, at great personal risk, continue
to defy efforts by the war lobby to entrench a culture of silence in Sri Lanka.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide