CPJ Blog

Press Freedom News and Views

Sri Lanka


With two weeks to go until the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka, the government's anti-media policies remain a pressing topic. There are two links below to statements by media support groups today relating to the government's wrongful and heavy handed response to a media workshop held in Colombo this week.

When the human rights watchdog for the United Nations visits Sri Lanka this weekend she should forcefully address the government's problematic record on press freedom.

Details are emerging of Sri Lanka's effort to control media coverage of an ugly attack on demonstrators by security forces last week. In Rathupaswala village in the town of Weliweriya, outside Colombo, on August 1, soldiers beat and fired on people protesting what they feared was contamination of their drinking water by a nearby factory. Most media accounts say three people died and 50 were wounded (here is AP and AFP coverage). Journalists, reports say, were singled out. 

As Sri Lanka prepares to host the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo in November, some journalists have wondered whether they will be able to access the summit given the island nation's abysmal press freedom record.

In Sri Lanka, where there has seldom been good news for the media in recent years, things have taken a further turn for the worse, as well as a turn for the bizarre. With President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government secure in its 2010 electoral mandate, its leaders have made fresh moves to tighten their control of the press. There is a plan afoot to re-criminalize defamation, and legislation has been proposed for a code of ethics that threatens to give the government a legal basis to quash journalism it deems "unethical." All this comes ahead of November's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo, which seems sure to go ahead despite calls for boycotts from several quarters because of the government's poor human rights record.

Lohini Rathimohan, a former television journalist from Sri Lanka, faces an unclear future. The 28-year-old is among 15 Tamil refugees still sheltered in a single room of an aluminum factory at Dubai's Jebel Ali port whose official statuses remain uncertain.

A short note to follow up on an alert we posted Wednesday on the threatened deportation of Lohini Rathimohan  (also spelled Lokini), a former television journalist and one of 19 Tamil refugees facing deportation from the United Arab Emirates. Earlier reports said the refugees, who reached Dubai illegally, could be deported this week.

On February 13, Navi Pillay, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, said in her annual report to the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that Sri Lanka's government has not taken enough steps recommended by its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Although the LLRC is seen as a flawed attempt to heal Sri Lanka after decades of fratricidal conflict, last year the Human Rights Council adopted a U.S. motion calling on the government to act on the LLRC's recommendations. President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government ignored the resolution, but the Americans say they will make a similar motion at this year's meeting of the 22nd session of the UNHRC, which opens on February 25 in Geneva.

Here is a quick pointer to one of Sri Lanka's few remaining independent media sources, Groundviews, which just posted a lengthy look at the president's newfound interest in social media: "The Sri Lankan President's Twitter archive and Propaganda 2.0: New challenges for online dissent." In a country where there isn't all that much to laugh about, Groundviews pokes some fun at President Mahinda Rajapaksa's recently launched Twitter account, @PresRajapaksa

Journalists, rights activists, and opposition lawmakers, with Sandya Eknelygoda in the center, protest attacks on journalists and authorities' failure to punish the culprits in Colombo Tuesday. (AP/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

Black January commemorations in Colombo have become an annual event. Tuesday's demonstration was the second. The protest aims to recall the series of killings and attacks on journalists in Sri Lanka in recent years, many of them occurring in Januaries past. All of them have gone untried and unpunished, sustaining the country's perfect record of impunity for those who want to silence media by murder.

Blog Authors
Full author list »

Recent Categories