FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Sri Lanka News Website Suspended, Journalist Held in Custody

Media Release: Sri Lanka

April 28, 2011

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly condemns a court order today to suspend operations of Lanka-e-News in Sri Lanka.

The Pugoda Magistrate’s court ordered the suspension of online news organisation Lanka-e-News until a contempt case against one of its journalists, Shantha Wijesooriya, is concluded, the Lanka-e-News website reported before the suspension took effect.

Wijesooriya was arrested by Kirindiwala police at the Lanka-e-News offices on April 25 and charged with contempt of court.

The charge is connected to a report published by Lanka-e-News on April 19 which said that a Pugoda magistrate was detaining two suspects in breach of release orders by Sri Lanka’s Attorney-General.

Lanka-e-News conceded the report was incorrect. It published two apologies, one of which was posted on its website on April 22. The news organisation pledged to cooperate fully in the contempt proceedings.

“Complaints about media content should be dealt with by Sri Lanka’s Press Complaints Commission rather than by a court and the application of criminal law against individuals,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

However, Sri Lanka’s Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) was ordered by the Pugoda Magistrate’s Court today to suspend the online services of Lanka-e-News. The court also ordered that Wijesooriya be remanded in custody until May 12.

“The order to suspend Lanka-e-News after the news service publicly accepted responsibility for an error and issued apologies is unnecessarily harsh when international best practice requires that complaints about media content be dealt with as a civil matter by independent entities,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.

The IFJ, with its affiliate the Free Media Movement (FMM), is deeply worried at the apparent targeting of Lanka-e-News in recent times.

The offices of the website were destroyed in an arson attack on January 31. Editor Bennett Rupasinghe was detained at Welikada prison in Colombo on March 31 before being released on bail on April 7, and denies accusations of making threatening calls to a suspect in the arson attack. Cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared on January 24, 2010. His whereabouts remain unknown.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0919

The IFJ represents 600,000 journalists in 125 countries

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