Sri Lankan Government Must Reverse Anti-Media Actions

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.


“It is

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.”


The fresh

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.


After the

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.


On August

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.


For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919



represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries worldwide