Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rights and media groups call for immediate halt to media suppression

International and local rights groups, media organisations and media rights groups have all come out strongly against the continuing media suppression in Sri lanka.

A joint statement by the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU), Free Media Movement (FMM), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA) and Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) has called on the government to stop immediately the repressive acts against media that carry content critical of the government.

“It is clear that the sole reason behind the repression of the Lanka newspaper and its editor Chandana Sirimalwatte is the role played by the newspaper during the recently concluded presidential election,” the statement said.

It stated that the promises made during the presidential campaign to defend press freedom and speed up investigations on the assassination of journalists have evaporated within days. Instead repression against journalists and media that do not obey government orders and express dissent have now culminated in acts unleashed against Lanka newspaper.

Meanwhile, Paris based Reporters sans frontiere’s (Reporters without borders) said: “It is quite normal for journalists and privately-owned media to side with a candidate before and during a democratic election but it is unacceptable for them to be the victims of reprisals once the elections are over.”
The organization cited several incidents that took place during the last two weeks and finally urged President Rajapaksa to assign more police officers to track down political reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, who has been missing since January 24.

The Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) stated that it is deeply concerned at the disappearance of Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda.

“We stand together with Sri Lankan media groups that have justifiably condemned the forced suspension of a pro-opposition newspaper, Lanka, and the arrest of its editor and the apparent shutting down – however temporarily -- of, the website to which Prageeth contributes”, CJA President Hassan Shahriar said.

Human Rights Watch has reported that since the Jan. 26, presidential election, authorities have detained and questioned several journalists, blocked news web sites and expelled a Swiss journalist. At least one journalist has been assaulted and several have been threatened.

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) stated that it has received information regarding the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda shortly after he wrote articles supporting the opposition presidential 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 organized abduction last year. It should be noted that his disappearance fits the strong pattern of harassment of journalists in the country by government agencies.

“Sri Lanka remains one of the most dangerous environments in the region for journalists, and other public opinion makers, largely due to the lack of accountability faced by those who harass or attack them,” AHRC stated.

Meanwhile Amnesty International called on the Sri Lankan government to end its crackdown on journalists, political activists and human rights defenders following last week’s presidential election.

Sri Lankan journalists have given Amnesty International a list of 56 of their colleagues who face serious threats, including some working for the government-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, as well as the Independent Television Network, Lak Handa and the Lake House Group.

“Threats, beatings and arrests mean that Sri Lankan human rights activists live in fear of the consequences of expressing their political opinions,” Madhu Malhotra, Amnesty International's Asia- Pacific Deputy Director said.

© The Sunday Times

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