The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today called on the government of Sri Lanka and state forces to ensure media freedom and the safety of journalists as the country’s Presidential Election approach next month.
Sri Lanka is slated to vote for a new president on Thursday, January 8, 2015 with the incumbent president Mahinda Rajapaksha seeking third-term in the office. The opposition has fielded Maithripala Sirisena and its candidate in the presidential race.
Sri Lankan elections have a history of violence and civil unrest, including actions against the media. The IFJ urges the government and the Department of Elections to deploy all possible measures to ensure the safety of journalists and media personnel while also ensuring they get legitimate access and mobility for reporting up to the election and in post-election reporting.
The IFJ Asia-Pacific office said: “The IFJ and the world is watching on right now and we call on government to respect freedom of expression and the right of the media to present all voices which is so critical to the democratic process of the country. We also urge the Election Commissioner to take necessary actions to ensure a free and fair election, and create an atmosphere free of violence and intimidation for a free and fair election that demonstrates a truthful public opinion.”
Disturbingly, the IFJ has had already had reports of incidents that violated media freedom, most notably the non-transmission of a program on Sirasa TV included an interview with the opposition candidate on two major cable operators on November 22, 2014; the interrogation of an editor on November 30 for publishing an opinion poll that showed opposition candidate had the advantage. Senior leaders of the IFJ affiliates in Sri Lanka have also reported of being followed and monitored.
The IFJ condemns these actions and warns against any further violations of media freedom and called on police to observe the principles and standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and fundamental rights embodied in the laws and constitution of Sri Lanka.
The Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate in Sri Lanka, has also condemned an incident yesterday where the mayor of Hambanthota, Eraj Fernando, and his cadres allegedly threatened with pistols and cut-throat razors a group of civil society organisations, including FMM, who were demonstrating and calling for democratic reforms and protests against anti-democratic activities of the government. Three of the protesters were hospitalized with injuries.
The FMM said: “This is the gross violation of freedom of expression of Sri Lankan citizens, and a barrier for free and fair election.”
The IFJ strongly urges all media and journalists in Sri Lanka to remain vigilant for their individual safety during this time; and take note of the IFJ safety guidelines. Media personnel should also see RSF’s Election guidelines here and adhere by their professional codes of conduct as media professionals.
The FMM has handed over a short-term proposal for media reforms to the opposition candidate Sirisena focusing on freedom of information, abolishing impunity, media independence, abolishing censorship and social responsibility.
The FMM said: “Over the past several years freedom of expression rights in Sri Lanka has been on a steady decline. The FMM has repeatedly requested the present Government to protect freedom of expression rights of all Sri Lankans, which is based on people’s right to information. However, our requests have been completely neglected by the Government.”
Since 2005, more than 80 Sri Lankan journalists have been forced into exile. Others like respected cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda have simply disappeared while the murder of Sunday Leader editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, has become an emblematic case for Sri Lanka’s battle for justice and press freedom.
The IFJ Asia Pacific said: “Elections are volatile time everywhere. Given the history of violence in Sri Lankan elections in the past and the IFJ’s documented national pattern of intimidation and retribution toward independent media or voices critical to the current government, we remain seriously concerned for the well-being of Sri Lanka’s journalists at this time.”
The IFJ urges the Sri Lankan government to deploy all measures to ensure journalists safety, not to violate or restrict people’s right to freedom of expression, and press freedom in the pre-election build-up and post poll period.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0950
The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries
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