In Sri Lanka, anti-government website blocked

New York, October 19, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that access to anti-government news website Lanka eNews has been blocked inside Sri Lanka, according to the site’s exiled editor and users inside the country. All three language versions of the site, English, Sinhala, and Tamil, have not been available since Tuesday. 

A Sri Lankan journalist told CPJ by email today that the shutdown could have stemmed from Lanka eNews‘ October 15 coverage of a shootout involving parliamentarians close to Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In Colombo on Saturday, a presidential aide and his bodyguard were shot dead in a fight involving opposing factions of the Sri Lankan ruling party during local elections, news reports said. Other Sri Lankan media either ignored the story or played it down. The government denies being behind the shutdown, Lanka eNews said.

Virtually all of the reporting for the site is now generated from outside the country. In March 2010, Lanka eNews‘ founder and editor Sandaruwan Senadheera went into exile in England after repeatedly receiving death threats.

“The blocking of access to Lanka eNews inside Sri Lanka is the next step in the government’s move toward silencing this adamantly anti-establishment website,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Lanka eNews is one of the country’s few independent news sources left uncowed. This is another effort by the Rajapaksa government to stifle independent media criticism. The government must back away from this policy and allow the country’s once-flourishing media to resume their proper role.”

In June, access to independent news and analysis website Groundviews and its Sinhala version, Vikalpa, were temporarily blocked, CPJ research shows. Groundviews founder Sanjana Hattotuwa told CPJ at the time that the shutdown was no mistake and it could have been a signal to them to shut up. Transparency International, often critical of corruption within the Sri Lankan government, was also blocked temporarily at the time.

Lanka eNews has been targeted many times in recent years. In April, the site’s staff members were arrested then released weeks later, and in the same month, the site was temporarily banned by a court order. In January, the offices were hit with an arson attack. The site’s political cartoonist, Prageeth Eknelygoda, has been missing since January 2010.