For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Reports suggest that the latest edition of the Economist has been detained by customs at Colombo airport to prevent its distribution. Most likely explanation is because the issue contains a story criticizing the 18th Amendment: ‘Sri Lanka’s constitutional amendment: Eighteenth time unlucky’. Read the full article here
Last month an article about post-conflict development in Sri Lanka ( ‘Rebuilding ,but at a cost’) was also detained in similar fashion. The article highlighted the uneven distribution of land in the North-East and the displacement of people living in a ‘high-security’ zone which is now a construction site for a power plant supported by Indian investment. The article also speculated that a ‘crackdown on the opposition might be under way’. Read the full article here
These are illustrations of the ever-tightening government stranglehold on the press.
When asked about the detention of The Economist, Lakshman Hulugalle (Director General of the Media Centre for National Security) spoke more generally to the Sri Lankan Sunday Times. He said that the government’s policy was to detain foreign publications if they were ‘harmful to national security.’
These incidents are not the first time distribution of the Economist has been prevented. The Sunday Times reported in May of this year that two issues of the weekly publication had been detained on arrival in Sri Lanka. Customs sent the copies to to the government’s Information Department instead of distributing them. The customs authorities did not give any reason for the detention according to the publications’s distributor. Both these issues (22nd and 29th May) included articles about the year anniversary of the fighting with the LTTE and the continued existence of IDP camps. The same thing reportedly happened to a number of issues of the Economist during the conflict in 2009, again with issues that contained stories on Sri Lanka- but it is hard to find out exactly how many times this has happened. To our knowledge, the detained issues described above were never distributed. But again this is difficult to ascertain. If anyone in or outside of Sri Lanka has information on this please do get in contact with us