Saturday, August 08, 2009

JDS condemns Sri Lanka's ban on media coverage of northern elections

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka out rightly condemn the Sri Lankan government’s decision not to allow independent media representatives to cover the first local elections in two main northern cities, Jaffna and Vavunia – which will be the first since 1998. The head of the government security information centre said on Monday the 3rd, the journalists will not be allowed to cover the crucial elections. Therefore the independent media is compelled to rely on information provided exclusively by the government.

Even though the Sri Lankan government’s decision has drawn widespread condemnation from various quarters, it does not come as a surprise for the people who had been closely observing the government’s recent policies towards free media and the democratic rights of the Tamil people.

Following the recently achieved military victory over the Tamil rebels, the government called quick elections in the two northern cities, while more than 280,000 Tamil people were been held against their will inside internment camps run by the state armed forces. The dreadful conditions prevailing inside the camps have been highlighted by various human rights groups and the camps still remain out of bounds for media.

Furthermore, severely militarized environment prevailing outside the camps does not ensure the conditions required for holding free and fare elections. According to a recently concluded survey carried out by the Colombo based Centre for Policy Alternatives, out of the total registered voters who are eligible to cast their votes in Jaffna Municipal Council elections, 11.6 percent are detained in several camps for displaced in Jaffna district while over one fifth of the IDPs are living out of the district. This includes the Tamils as well as the Muslim population who were displaced from the peninsula due to the conflict in the recent past. The entire province has been recently brought under the control of an ex-military officer who was appointed as the Governor. A similar move was earlier implemented in the Eastern province.

While methods of selective terror such as abductions and targeted killings have been frequently exercised against the civilian community in the area, free press has always suffered immensely for voicing the concerns of the victims. On the 23rd of June, thousands of copies of the local newspapers, Valampuri, Uthayan and Thinakkural (Jaffna edition), were burnt into ashes by an armed group backed by the government, for defying publishing an anonymous notice.

In the above context, it is obvious that the outcome of the local government elections in Jaffna and Vavunia, will simply reflect the precarious realities prevailing in the area. The elections will naturally intensify the violence that has already been a part of the day to day life of a community living under the shadow of guns. Hence it is not difficult to understand the true motive behind the government’s decision to bar independent media from covering the elections.

Therefore, while condemning the government’s decision, the JDS calls upon the democratic forces in the country as well as the responsible international bodies to demand that Sri Lanka be open up to media and human rights scrutiny as a first step to restore democracy in the country.

Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) is an action group of journalists, writers, artists and human rights defenders in exile who are campaigning for democracy, human rights and media freedom in Sri Lanka.

Executive Committee
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka


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