Sri Lankan lawmakers demonstrate against the passage of a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution. After the bill was passed, the government said that journalists who supported the motion were betraying the motherland. (AFP)

Sri Lankan government calls journalists ‘traitors’

New York, March 22, 2012–The Sri Lankan government must immediately halt its intimidation of journalists who supported the adoption of a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution calling for an investigation into the country’s alleged abuses of international humanitarian law during its war with Tamil separatists.

Journalists in the capital, Colombo, told CPJ they were concerned by a state-controlled media campaign against them, which called them “traitors” for supporting the U.S.-backed motion. News accounts reported that Wednesday’s vote, which passed 24 to 15, with eight abstentions, infuriated the Sri Lankan government.

The BBC said that after the vote, state television launched an attack on Sri Lankan journalists, both at home and in exile, saying they were helping the defeated Tamil Tiger rebels and “betraying the motherland.” The broadcaster also said that although the journalists who had participated in the Council sessions were not specifically named, Sri Lankan state television “repeatedly zooms in on thinly disguised photographs of them, promising to give their names soon and ‘expose more traitors.'”

“Things are quite tense here. We’ve had anti-U.S. and anti-resolution protests the past few days, and now we’re waiting to see who they will hit out at next,” one journalist in the country told CPJ.

“The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has a long and alarming record of intolerance to criticism,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The international community must be extra vigilant in ensuring that Sri Lankan journalists are not subjected to reprisals for voicing their concerns to the Human Rights Council.”

The U.N. resolution called on Sri Lanka to investigate abuses carried out by its military in 2009, at the end of the decades-long war with Tamil separatists.

Rajapaksa’s administration has verbally attacked journalists in the past in an effort to intimidate them, CPJ research shows. In a 2008 letter to Rajapaksa, CPJ voiced concern over government officials repeatedly calling journalists “traitors” in public. At least nine journalists have been murdered in the Rajapaksa era, all of them unsolved, according to CPJ data.