FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

UN HUMAN RIGHTS DAY, 2010 AND THE RIGHTS TO FREE EXPRESSION AND DISSENT IN SRI LANKA

Press release/ 10 December  2010

Action against London protesters
•    Assault on Dr. Wickramabahu Karunarathne
•    Verbal attacks on Dr. Jayalath Jayawardane
•    Unprecedented bail conditions for Mr. Udul Premarathna
•    Assault on Journalists Prema Lal and  Shantha Wijesuriya
•    Boycott of Nobel Price ceremony

December, 10  was  declared as the  UN Human Rights Day   to remind the World on the principles laid down in  the UN  Charter  on Human Rights. It   is celebrated as a day of freedom to enjoy  democratic rights  all over the world.  However  in Sri Lanka  the freedom of expression and the right to dissent,  which are the key  rights to ensure all the other freedoms, are under continued assault by the State and the  unruly politicians and their henchmen of the party in power.

Speaking at London on 2nd December 2010  the Minister of External Affairs, Professor G L Peires quoting Voltaire’s to the British Press, said, “I disagree with every word you say, but shall defend unto death your right to say what you have to say…” and reproached the Oxford Union and the British government over the recent debacle where Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapakse’s scheduled speech to the Oxford Union,  was  cancelled following   mass protests.  And at the same time, according to pro-government media in Sri Lanka,  Gotabaya Rajapakshe, the Defence Secretary,   has asked for a report  from the SL High Commission in UK  on the Protest that took place in London  against  the President’s visit.  According to the same newspaper,   he has also asked the High Commission to identify the persons from the videos they have taken of the protestors,  for further action against them. Networking for Rights wishes to take this opportunity to question both Minister Pieris and his government why that same right, he wants for the President, is not extended to their own countrymen.

Over the years the  government of Mahinda Rajapaksa  has gained notoriety in the manner it has sought to quell any form of dissent in the country,  be it the protest of university students for better facilities in the universities for studies, or the temporary employees of the Electricity Board who were recently tear-gassed for demanding that they be made permanent, or  the murder, abduction and assault of numerous journalists.

Those who disagree with  the government  are branded as unpatriotic persons  and  called for them to be charged  for  treason.

When Dr. Wickramabahu Karunaratne , the General Secretary of the Nava Sama Samaja Party returned to Sri Lanka on 7th instant, after having spoken at meetings in London,  he  was attacked at the airport by Aviation authority officials while the police were looking on. According to reliable information a group of  officials who were in uniform and on duty mobbed Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne when he stepped out of the airport to be welcomed by NSSP officials, party members, trade union leaders, lawyers and human rights activists. Dozens of aviation officials who surrounded him called him a ‘traitor who wants to divide the country united by Mr. Mahinda’ and attacked him. Several well wishers  including females who came to his rescue were injured.

MTV’s Katunayaka correspondent, Prema Lal and Lankaenews journalist, Shantha Wijesuriya who went to cover Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratna’s arrival, have also been assaulted.

Another Member of Parliament, Dr. Jayalath Jayawardene, has been accused of being behind the London fiasco. And the State is now targeting veteran diplomat turned politician, Karu Jayasuriya, for calling for an independent inquiry that will once and for all clear the question whether any war crimes were committed in Sri Lanka in the final days of the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

On 9th December the Colombo High Court granting  bail to Inter University Students Federation (IUSF) Convener, Udul Premaratne, ordered him not to participate in any students’ movements,  political meetings or paste posters. This is an unprecedented court order which impinges on  Mr. Premarathna’s  fundamental rights.

While Professor Pieris faults the British, the Sri Lankan government has also decided to boycott the Noble Prize ceremony in its attempts to curry more favour with the Chinese. China’s Liu Xiaobo jailed for his role in calling for democratic political reform in China, is this year’s recipient of the Noble Peace Prize.

Networking for Rights calls on Professor Peiris and his government to extend the same freedoms and privileges to all Sri Lankans that Professor Peiris quotes and “defend unto death” the rights of their own citizens  as enshrined UN Charter on Human Rights and  in the country’s Constitution.

Issued by
Executive committee
NfR – Sri Lanka

December 2010
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