Sri Lankan Embassy denies press freedom crisis

By David Marash/CPJ Board Member on March 6, 2009 3:43 PM ET

January 6, 2009: The main control room of Colombo's TV Sirasa is bombed. January 8, 2009: Prominent independent editor Lasantha Wickramatunga is killed by a hit-squad that attacks his car while it is blocked in traffic. January 23, 2009: Pro-government editor Upali Tennakoon is attacked under similar circumstances by a similar hit-squad. He is injured, but escapes with his life and flees the country.

Wickramatunga is the eighth journalist to be murdered in apparent connection with his work since President Mahinda Pajapaksa took office.

CPJ's conclusion: The Rajapaksa government must take responsibility for an atmosphere of impunity with regard to crimes against journalists in Sri Lanka.

But, in a meeting with a CPJ delegation at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington on Thursday, Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya denied there was any press freedom crisis in his country. It was only, he said, "a problem of communication."

The Rajapaksa government has stepped up its war against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), which is fighting for an independent Tamil homeland along Sri Lanka's north and east coasts. During this time, the ambassador told the delegation that the country's "image has been distorted. It has been called a place of violence, a place where journalists are threatened. But this image is not accurate."

Pressed by CPJ's Joel Simon and Bob Dietz about the three January attacks, Wickramasuriya said all were under investigation. The delegation, which also included CPJ's Frank Smyth and board members Clarence Page, Mark Whitaker, and myself, questioned the credibility of the government investigation, given that some eyewitnesses and critics claimed to see a government hand in the attacks.

The delegation suggested the government could relieve some doubts by making the investigation more rigorous, by presenting regular progress reports to Sri Lankan and international news media, and more transparent, by opening the process to journalistic coverage.

Vinoda Basnayake, an advisor to the Embassy from the Washington law firm Patton Boggs LLP said some confused reporting about the ongoing fighting between the government and the Tamil Tigers had been caused by "the fog of war." But Simon pointed out that the reality of the fighting had been shrouded not by fog, but by government restrictions barring news personnel from the battle zones, and by threats to prosecute critics of the government's military actions with treason.

Wickamasuriya concluded the meeting by promising better communication from the government and especially from the attorney general's office, but then handed out a list of Sinhalese and Tamil, pro- and anti-government newspapers in publication, calling them proof that "Sri Lanka has freedom of the press."


Dear sir ,

You are saying this but read this news from sl ambassador in US

Sri Lankan Ambassador Invites Journalist Delegation to Sri Lanka to Observe for Firsthand Freedom Enjoyed by journalists
Sat, 2009-03-07 11:25 Washington, D.C., 07 March, ( At a meeting held yesterday in the Embassy of Sri Lanka with a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Jaliya Wickramasuriya, the Ambassador for Sri Lanka to the United States, reaffirmed the availability of the media freedom in Sri Lanka. He also encouraged the delegation members to meet with a cross section of journalists actively working in the country to learn firsthand more about the current situation."The Government of Sri Lanka is perturbed by unfounded allegations against media," said the Ambassador. "The Government in no way condones or endorses any attacks on journalists. Further, the Embassy would be pleased to facilitate any visits by journalists and arrange meetings with appropriate officials. If formal complaints have been made on any incidents of alleged threats or harassment, the Embassy will pursue them with the relevant authorities in Sri Lanka for appropriate action," the Ambassador said.During the meeting, the Ambassador stressed that media freedom exists in full force in Sri Lanka and journalists enjoy freedom of reporting and commenting on events in Sri Lanka, subject to limitations constitutionally placed on them as in any other countries. It was pointed out that those who have violated laws in the country have been subjected to arrest and detention under the due legal process that exists in Sri Lanka. Those laws are applicable to journalists as well.One such example is the issues relating to the arrest and detention of journalist J.S. Tissanayagam. The Ambassador pointed out that a confession made by Tissanayagam has been admitted and the defence has been called for March 20, 2009.It was noted that due process is observed in all cases of arrest and detention and journalists would go through this process when they are brought to trial. Concerns were expressed by the delegation that investigations into the incidents pertaining to journalists are taking a long time and the government must expedite this process. It was assured to
the delegation that the investigations have been launched in all these cases and the government will be taking steps to bring these offenders to trial.On the question of non-disclosure of information, relating to the ongoing investigations, it was pointed out that the magistrate gets periodic reports about the progress of the ongoing investigations. The Ambassador pointed out that complete transparency prevails in regards to journalists, and he is committed to hosting future meetings to iron out any concerns that might arise- Asian Tribune -

[email protected] NadarajahStop The Genocide of Sri Lankan Tamils

Palani Nadarajah March 8, 2009 11:26:41 PM ET

The delegation suggested the government could relieve some doubts by making the investigation more rigorous, by presenting regular progress reports to Sri Lankan and international news media, and more transparent, by opening the process to journalistic coverage.

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