Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sri Lankan Government Heightens Intimidation Campaign Against Voices of Dissent

With less than a month to go before parliamentary elections, Freedom House condemns the Sri Lankan government’s latest attempts to intimidate human rights defenders and journalists, including Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA) director Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu and the executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, J.C. Weliamuna.

The Sri Lankan intelligence service has reportedly compiled a list of 35 human rights defenders and journalists, assigning them numerical ratings based on their levels of dissent. According to CPA, Saravanamuttu and Weliamuna are “at the top” of the list due to “perceived or alleged political allegiances.” Media reports in the past three weeks have reported government allegations about allegedly “misused” funds at Transparency International, as well preposterous claims that local and international civil society organizations are working to destabilize Sri Lanka.

“In the run up to the legislative elections slated for April, the Sri Lankan government is clearly trying to divert criticism from itself after the egregious violations perpetrated against the press and other opposition candidates during the recent presidential election,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. According to Windsor, “This is yet another example of the government acting with impunity and trying to discredit voices of dissent.”

Allegations of the misuse of state-run media were widely reported during the recent presidential election. Opposition candidate, and former army chief, Sarath Fonseka, continues to be imprisoned after being arrested and charged with sedition a month ago.

Additionally, in recent years, dozens of journalists and activists have fled the country due to a culture of impunity and intimidation that has worsened since the January presidential election. Journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda of Lanka eNews disappeared on January 24 and remains missing, despite calls for a timely and serious investigation into his case. On March 9, the parliament voted to extend emergency regulations, which have been widely used to target activists, until after next month’s legislative elections.

“These new threats by the Sri Lankan government clearly reflect the increasingly dangerous environment for journalists and other human rights activists,” said Karin Karlekar, managing editor of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press survey. “Over the last three years, Sri Lanka’s rating has slipped from 121st to 155th place worldwide, reflecting a dramatic deterioration in the space for local media and activists to carry out their professional activities.”

Sri Lanka is ranked Partly Free in Freedom in the World 2010, Freedom House's survey of political rights and civil liberties, and Not Free in Freedom of the Press 2009.

© Freedom House

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