For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
COLOMBO (AFP) – Media groups in Sri Lanka on Sunday accused the government of detaining a senior editor and shutting down his newspaper because the publication backed the losing opposition candidate in elections.
Press owners, editors and rights bodies issued a joint statement saying the closure of the pro-opposition Lanka weekly and the detention of Chandana Sirimalwatte was a “fatal blow to media freedom and democracy.”
“Promises made during the presidential campaign to defend press freedom and speed up the investigations into assassinations of journalists have evaporated within days,” the group said.
“The repression against journalists and media that does not obey government orders and express dissenting voices has now culminated in acts unleashed against the Lanka newspaper.”
Sri Lankan authorities have not said why the paper was forced to close and its editor taken into custody.
However, the government, under criticism from international rights groups, on Sunday withdrew an expulsion order against Swiss reporter Karin Wenger, who covered the island’s fiercely fought presidential election last week.
A government spokesman said that “wrong information” had led to Wenger, of Swiss Public Radio, being ordered to leave the country.
The department of information had accused her of damaging the image of Sri Lanka with “defamatory” reports.
A government minister also criticised Wenger for grilling the authorities on allegations of irregularities in Tuesday’s vote, which was comfortably won by incumbent Mahinda Rajapakse.
International rights organisations accused the government of harassing independent journalists who it believed sided with defeated opposition candidate Sarath Fonsek