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'Dramatic decline' in safety of Lanka scribes

A study shows "dramatic" decline in journalists' safety and deterioration in media freedom since the Rajapaksa Govt assumed power, reports PK Balachandran.

world Updated: Jun 21, 2007 17:55 IST
PK Balachandran

There has been a "dramatic decline" in the safety of journalists and a "significant deterioration" in media freedom since the Mahinda Rajapaksa government assumed office in late 2005, says a note submitted by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) to the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission currently in Sri Lanka.

"The Freedom of Expression and Fundamental Rights of citizens continues to erode alarmingly in an unbridled culture of impunity and violence," says the note, authored by Senior Researcher, Sanjana Hattotuwa.

Journalists were "caught between the terrorism of the armed groups in the North and East (namely the LTTE and the Karuna group) and the increasing State terror in the South," it said.

As before, the LTTE was suppressing dissent "brutally". It had spread its tentacles to the Tamil Diaspora in the West and threatening moderate and alternative Tamil nationalist voices there.

In the Sinhala South, rights campaigners, including prominent media freedom activists, were living in fear of losing their lives as they were being dubbed "Sinhala Tigers" or collaborators of the LTTE.

"The increased violence, the abductions and disappearances, with total impunity, make it impossible for journalists to conduct their investigations," the CPA said.

Newspaper offices in Tamil-speaking Jaffna had been attacked with guns and bombs by pro-government Tamil armed groups. Certain Tamil newspapers were not being allowed into the East.

The CPA note points out that cabinet minister Champika Ramawaka had publicly advocated the brutal suppression of dissent, even through extrajudicial means. "The government has, to this date, not distanced itself from this statement."

The Free Media Movement (FMM) was "outraged' on learning that the brother of President Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, had "threatened" the editor of the Daily Mirror Champika Liyanaarachchi, over the telephone on the morning of 17th.of April, 2007.

Health Minister Nimal Sripala de Silva had said publicly that the media showed "symptoms of rabies" and therefore needed "urgent inoculation." The accounts of Mawbima and The Sunday Standard were frozen. Mawbima journalist M.Parameshwari was put in jail for months without any formal charge, and was released only on the judiciary's intervention. But recently, her ID card and passport were seized.

The CPA's note pointed out that the new Emergency regulations dated December 6, 2006, were being used to suppress the media. Media men had been arrested or questioned and threatened with arrest under the regulations. Two journalists working for the state-owned The Sunday Observer had been among those questioned.

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