New York, N.Y., June 9, 1998
--The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
denounced new restrictions on press coverage of the Sri
Lankan civil war today, calling on President Chandrika
Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's government to lift censorship
rules imposed on the media.
In a letter
to Kumaratunga, CPJ
Executive Director William A. Orme, Jr. said, "This kind
of sweeping censorship is incompatible with democratic
governance." The group reminded Kumaratunga of her
government's earlier support of press freedom and asked
that she immediately rescind the censorship
The harsh regulations introduced
on June 5 effectively ban independent coverage of the
civil war in Sri Lanka by both the foreign and local
media. The regulations require that all reports,
photographs and video tape pass through the hands of a
military censor. The media are also barred from
discussing the actions of police and military officials.
No reason was given for the regulations.
It is the first time that a
military censor has been appointed in Sri Lanka; similar
press restrictions on war coverage were administered by
civilians for several months in 1996 before being lifted.
The censorship is an abrupt
about-face for Kumaratunga's government, which in recent
months had been negotiating with publishers, editors and
press freedom advocates over new constitutional
guarantees for free expression. In April, CPJ Asia
Program Coordinator A. Lin Neumann visited Sri Lanka to
attend a conference on "Media Freedom and Responsibility"
at which government representatives and opposition
leaders met with journalists to hammer out press freedom
"The relative openness of the
Sri Lanka government has been suddenly reversed," said
Neumann. "It would be tragic for the country if
censorship became the order of the day."
CPJ's letter to Kumaratunga
cited widespread denunciation of the regulations by Sri
Lankan newspapers and journalists. In an editorial, the
Sunday Times of Sri Lanka said, "We hope this is not the
first step towards martial law." In protesting the
censorship, Sri Lankan newspapers left columns blank over
"It is our belief that a free
and vibrant press is the cornerstone of democracy," CPJ
wrote to Kumaratunga, "We call on your excellency to act
immediately to restore press freedom in Sri Lanka."