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SRI LANKA: Attack on mass media continues

August 10, 2010
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Dear friends,

We wish to share with you the following statement from the South Asia Forum for Human Rights.

Asian Human Rights Commission
Hong Kong

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
AHRC-FST-059-2010
August 10, 2010

A Statement from the South Asia Forum for Human Rights (SAFHK) forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: Attack on mass media continues

In Sri Lanka, the war against "terrorism" was over in May 2009 yet, Sri Lanka’s defence expenditure continues to rise at an astronomical rate. A host of repressive legislations are still in place and the humiliatingly discriminatory practice of registering Tamils has resumed – in the name of security. And yet, deputy ministers tie public officials to trees in the West; mysterious attackers bulldoze temples and dispossess Sinhala villagers in the East, to make way for tourist hotels and displaced Northern Tamils returning to their ancestral lands are expelled, to build cantonments. Behind a façade of democracy, impunity is ravaging post-war Sri Lanka.

Cartoonist and Columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda was kidnapped from his house 200 days ago by a group of armed people. On August 10, 2010A silent protest (sathyagraha) and seminar will be held to protest against the failure of the authorities to find him. The protest has been organized by the Alliance of Media Organizations, comprising the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA), Free Media Movement (FMM), South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), Sri LankaTamil Journalists Association (SLTJA), Journalists Against Suppression (JAS), Federation of Media Employees Trade Union (FMETU).

While Prageeth Eknaligoda remains untraced, the attacks on media persons and media institutions continue. On July 30, 2010 the news room of Siyatha TV and radio station, which is located just a few hundred metres from the Temple Trees, the official residence of President Rajapaksa was attacked by a mob. The attackers threw bombs and had the employees kneel down and beat them. As the offices of the TV and the radio station continued to burn, the fire brigade arrived nearly three hours later as they were "busy elsewhere" The attackers got away. It is strange that in a heavily guarded city like Colombo, teeming with checkpoints and military and police personnel, this could happen in broad day light. According to eyewitnesses, six unidentified armed persons had arrived in two cars and mounted the attack with no resistance from the unarmed security guards.

The police are reported to have launched an investigation. Many media persons in Colombo feel that this investigation is a sham. They point out that such police probes into attacks on the media invariably fail to apprehend the culprits. According to the journalists, in the aftermath of incident of 'mob' violence against media organisation or journalists, the police claim to deploy 'special teams', hold press conferences about the progress of the investigation and thereafter the matter is forgotten as some other issue crops up to distract the public.

The record shows that those who were responsible for the attacks on The Sunday Leader, the MTV studio, the Sudar Oli office in Colombo and the Uthayan head office in Jaffna have not even been arrested till date in spite of the much advertised deployment of 'special police teams'. The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was roughed up on several occasions and then assassinated in broad daylight but his killers are still at large. Many other attacks on journalists and media houses have remained un-investigated

On August 8, The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka told the parliament that. "We need to maintain emergency laws to ensure the safety and security of the nation," The PM also announced that more than 1,500 Tiger suspects were arrested after the conclusion of the war. In a country which accords absolute primacy to security and is spectacularly successful in apprehending Tigers, one wonders how a media office in close proximity to the presidential abode could be attacked.

On Friday August 6, Sri Lanka’s Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the Sunday Times that the government intends to bring in legislation for broadcast media. Mr. Rambukwella said, "There are 52 channels in this country. We need a platform for them." When asked to what extent the draft bill would adhere to the current laws concerning media autonomy and whether the proposed bill was being developed in line with the regulatory model of other countries, the minister said, "We have our own understanding of the issue but we may also borrow a few ideas from laws of other developing countries," He said that the bill be called "Broadcasting Development Authority Bill."

According to news reports the government was looking closely at Singapore’s Media Development Authority Act 2003. In July it was reported in a section of the press that the government was inspired in particular by such legislation which is considered draconian by several international media organisations. Mr Rambukwella however denied this and also claimed that the draft bill was not going to resurrect the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Authority Bill, which was drafted in 1997 by the Chandrika Kumaratunga government, and sought to create a government-controlled body to regulate even privately-owned media.

The Sri Lanka's Supreme Court in March 1997 had ruled that Chandrika Kumaratunga government’s "Sri Lanka Broadcasting Authority Bill" was discriminatory in that it established different regulatory authority schemes for public and private broadcasters.

The post-war outlook of internet freedom in Sri Lanka is rather bleak according to Joseph Thavaraja of Muslim Guardian. While Tamilnet.com is already blocked, Human Rights Watch (HRW), TamilCanadian.com, Lankanewsweb.com, Nidahasa.com, and Lankaenews.com sites have also either been blocked fully or are often not available. The Sri Lanka Telecommunications Act No. 25 of 1991 (As Amended) (Sri Lanka) and the Computer Crimes Act No 24 of 2007 (Sri Lanka) provide limited protection to Internet users from surveillance and other forms of intercepting communications. However both the Acts have provisions that allow law enforcement agencies and relevant Ministers to intercept communications without any apparent restrictions or guidelines on their general power to do so the report adds

Impunity like malignant cells causes cancer and ultimately kills its host. It is invasive and pervasive and victimises even its one-time practitioner-beneficiaries, as the fate of Gen. Fonseka demonstrates. The rulers of Sri Lanka profited from impunity during the war. Their appetite for it remains undiminished. The attacks on media is a clear warning to every dissenter in Sri Lank, be it General Fonseka, a political opponent or a critical journalist- no one will escape the wrath of the Rajapaksa regime.

Document Type :
Forwarded Statement
Document ID :
AHRC-FST-059-2010
Countries :
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