Saturday, February 20, 2010

Of freedom of speech & media suppression

Sutirtho Patranobis - “Darkness at noon’’ was how on Sunday opposition leader Ranil Wickeremesinghe described the current situation in Sri Lanka. No one would agree with him more than Sandhya Eknaligoda, the frantic and worried wife of writer and cartoonist, Prageeth Eknaligoda.

On January 24, Eknaligoda left home for office. He did not reach his workplace. Neither has he returned home since that Sunday — Eknaligoda has disappeared without a trace.

His office, Lanka e News, said he might have been targeted because he wrote comments supporting the opposition.

“The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information regarding the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda shortly after he wrote articles supporting the presidential opposition candidate. His office was ransacked shortly after, the website he writes for was blocked during the election, and there have been delays and flaws in the police investigation.

The journalist was also a victim of an unresolved organised abduction last year,’’ the Lanka e News website wrote, quoting the AHRC.

The Free Media Movement secretary Sunil Jayasekara told the Daily Mirror that foreign embassies were notified about the disappearance. “We have asked the international community to pressurise the government about this, but there has been no response”, he said.

And if a newspaper report is to believed, not only dissenting journalists, dissenting opinion itself could soon disappear. According to the local Sunday Times newspaper, Chinese IT experts would soon be here to block “offensive” websites.

“IT experts of China’s Military Intelligence Division will be here within the next two weeks to map out the modalities required for this process,’’ Sunday Times said, adding that “action will be taken to impose controls on the Google search engine as well in relation to these issues.’’

In June 2007, the TamilNet website, through which the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) would often issue statements and opinions, was the first one to be banned by the government. Its journalists were also hounded and killed as well.

The military war against the LTTE got over in May 2009. But the fight to protect freedom of expression is likely to go on.

© Hindustan Times

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