FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Press release/ 23 December 2010

NfR expresses its serious concern about the continuance of intimidations and threats against journalists and human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, contrary to the claim that normalcy has returned to the country. It is important to note that all these acts of rights violations take place with complete impunity even though twenty months have lapsed after the end of the war.

According to citizen journalism web site groundsviews.org the Vice Chancellor of the University of Colombo “had refused permission for an internationally renowned Sri Lankan human rights defender and a recipient of the 1998 Human Rights Award in commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to speak.” at ‘”an event to be held on the campus of Colombo University and co-hosted by the Law Faculty and the Universitys Human Rights Centre, in collaboration with the UNDP and UNFPA.”

Universities are said to be centers of knowledge and healthy debate. The arbitrary act of Vice Chancellor of Colombo University shows the extent to which the culture of intolerance has crept into institutions of learning.

On 12th December unknown persons visited the house of a human rights defender Darasana Kahingala and inquired about him. They left the house saying that he would be found. Kahingala is a rights activist who is actively engaged in the campaign against disappearances of persons.
On 16th December an officer of the Media Unit of the Army had threatened two photo journalists with death for publishing pictures of solders fainting at the ceremony held on 55th Anniversary of the Sri Lanka Armoured Corps (SLAC). Dinuke Liyanawatta (Reuters) and Eranga Jayawardene (AFP) were the photo journalists threatened. During the last two years, six photo journalists had to leave the country because of threats to their life.

On 18th December the Mayor of Jaffna, Mrs. Yogeswary Patkunam, had cancelled permission to use the Jaffna Public Library auditorium by Home for Human Rights to conduct a workshop on human rights violations after the war. Number of academics were among those who were to participate at this event. Any independent discussion on the aftermath of the war, is not allowed in Jaffna and a number of such events had been sabotaged in recent past.

On 19th December in Batticaloa M. Sasikumar (35) a journalist of the Thinakaran newspaper, was assaulted by unidentified persons under the cover of darkness. Although he has lodged a complaint no one has been arrested. According to TNA MP Ariyanethiran, this incident has created a sense of fear in the minds of the public.

On 21st December Minister Mervyn Silva threatened to cut with a razor knife, the mouth of the person who gave the media news of him being castigated by the President for wearing a coloured batik shirt to the weekly cabinet meeting. He wanted this threat to be carried in the media. A number of journalists who protested against Minister Silva when he assaulted journalists within the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation in December 2008 were cut with razor knives and had to leave the country.
All these intimidations and threats send a stern warning to dissent and free speech thereby stifling any informed discussion on much needed revival of the rule of law and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
NfR will try its best to continue to document all these violations so that the perpetrators will not go unaccounted.
Steering Committee
NfR

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