New York, July 5, 2007—Amid an accelerating government attack on media in Sri Lanka, the Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about a proposal to reintroduce a criminal defamation law that, if implemented, could include two-year prison penalties.
Justice Minister Dilan Perera introduced the resolution at a June 27 Cabinet meeting. According to media reports, the move had the backing of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, but three Cabinet ministers dissented and the resolution is under deliberation.
“We strongly urge President Rajapaksa’s government to reject any attempt to reintroduce criminal defamation,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The threat of prison will have a chilling effect on the media and greatly inhibit journalists’ ability to report independently on Sri Lanka’s ongoing civil conflict.”
The move comes as Rajapaksa’s government has criticized and pressured different private media outlets over their reporting of the government’s renewed military campaign against the rebel Tamil Tigers. Last month his government ordered local Internet service providers to block access to a pro-rebel Web site. Defense Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa was quoted last month by the BBC and other media organizations as saying that Tamil Tiger rebels were disseminating incorrect information about alleged government abuses.
Sri Lanka first scrapped its criminal defamation legislation in June 2002, making it one of the few countries in the world to do so. Free Media Movement, a local press freedom group, said in a recent public statement that authorities employed criminal defamation charges in the past “to silence critical reportage and prosecute editors and journalists.”
CPJ is a New York-based, independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide. For more information, visit www.cpj.org.