CHOGM leaders should urge media freedom in Sri Lanka

November 5, 2013

Dear Commonwealth Heads of Government:

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) was set up more than 40 years ago with the aim of working together toward shared goals of democracy, freedom, peace, and the rule of law. In the past, formal meetings and private retreats at the summit have served as a platform for member states to discuss issues that affect all nations, such as apartheid in South Africa and the electoral dispute in Zimbabwe.

But as leaders from more than 50 nations converge in Sri Lanka for the biennial summit this month, we would like to highlight our grave concern about the perilous climate of press freedom in the country and urge meaningful action.

Critical or opposition journalists continue to face intense intimidation in Sri Lanka. Our research shows that at least 26 journalists have gone into exile in the past five years, which is one of the highest rates in the world. And while work-related murders have declined since 2009, the slayings of nine journalists have gone unpunished over the past decade, which is one of the worst records of impunity in the world. CPJ is investigating other cases of journalists killed in Sri Lanka to determine whether the murders were related to their work. At least one journalist has simply disappeared.

CPJ research has shown that since the end of the civil war, President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration has failed to prosecute a single case of a murdered journalist, including the assassination of prominent newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga in 2009. Many of the victims, like Wickramatunga, had reported on politically sensitive issues in ways that were critical of the government.

Sri Lanka remains a highly unsafe place for journalists to work, a circumstance that is exacerbated when killers have impunity. We ask that in formal and private meetings with President Rajapaksa, you urge him to ensure a credible, independent investigation into the cases of disappeared and murdered journalists, make the findings public, and efficiently prosecute the perpetrators in an effort to help reverse the pattern of impunity.

Sri Lanka’s government is becoming increasingly repressive toward the press and critical voices, as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said following her recent visit to the country. Journalists in Sri Lanka should be able to work openly and freely without fearing for their lives. A vibrant independent press is necessary for sustainable development, long-term stability, and a healthy economy.

Thank you for your consideration.


Joel Simon
Executive Director

Appendix: List of Commonwealth heads of government

Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, Antigua and Barbuda

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Australia

Prime Minister Perry Christie, Bahamas

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh

Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, Barbados

Prime Minister Dean Barrow, Belize

President Ian Khama, Botswana

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, Brunei

President Paul Biya, Cameroon

President Nicos Anastasiades, Cyprus

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit, Dominica

President John Dramani Mahama, Ghana

Prime Minister Keith Mitchell, Grenada

President Donald Ramotar, Guyana

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, India

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica

President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya

President Anote Tong, Kiribati

Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Lesotho

President Joyce Banda, Malawi

Prime Minister Najib Razak, Malaysia

President Mohammed Waheed Hassan, Maldives

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, Malta

Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam, Mauritius

President Armando Guebuza, Mozambique

Prime Minister Hage Geingob, Namibia

President Baron Waqa, Nauru

Prime Minister John Key, New Zealand

President Goodluck Jonathan, Nigeria

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Pakistan

Prime Minister Peter O’Neil, Papua New Guinea

President Paul Kagame, Rwanda

Prime Minister Denzil Douglas, Saint Kitts and Nevis

Prime Minister Kenny Anthony, Saint Lucia

Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Prime Minister Tuila’epa Sailele Malielegaoi, Samoa

President James Michel, Seychelles

President Ernest Bai Koroma, Sierra Leone

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore

Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo, Solomon Islands

President Jacob Zuma, South Africa

Prime Minister Barnabas Sibusiso Dlamini, Swaziland

President Jakaya Kikwete, Tanzania

Prime Minister Lord Tuʻivakano, Tonga

Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Trinidad and Tobago

Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga, Tuvalu

President Yoweri Museveni, Uganda

Prime Minister David Cameron, United Kingdom

Prime Minister Moana Carcasses Kalosil, Vanuatu

President Michael Sata, Zambia

CC List:

Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Kamalesh Sharma

President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka Minister of External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris

Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada