The Sri Lankan government has taken yet another step to silence critical media coverage, banning non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from holding press conferences and issuing press releases, as well as running workshops or training sessions. The action, announced Sunday by Sri Lanka's Ministry of Defense, left the country's many press groups wondering whether they are even allowed to issue a statement criticizing the decision.
New York, August 26, 2013--Five unidentified men entered the Colombo home of a Sunday Leader associate editor and writer early Saturday morning, held her at knifepoint, and searched her home, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Sri Lankan authorities to conduct a thorough and efficient investigation into the attack on Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema.
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.
You would think that with fighting between government forces and secessionist Tamils finished in May 2009, the Sri Lankan government might ease its grip on public information--information which is really the property of the country's citizens, not whichever administration happens to be holding political power. In 2004, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike's cabinet did approve a Freedom of Information Bill, but parliament was dissolved and the bill never went further.
On Wednesday, Sri Lanka's Supreme Court slammed the door on a case about the shutdown of four websites that had failed to register with the government. In handing down its decision, the Court appeared to rule that freedom of expression in Sri Lanka is not an absolute right and can be restricted--and you don't need to pass a law to do so. The three-judge panel told the petitioners who brought the case--Sunil Jayasekara, convener of the Free Media Movement, and Udaya Kalupathirana, a member of the movement's executive committee--that they saw no reason for the court to hear any further arguments.
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