For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
NfR – Net working for rights in Sri Lanka -Exile network for media and human rights in Sri Lanka
Press release/ 27 Oct 2011
NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders views the blocking of the website of Lanka e News in Sri Lanka as clear sign of the present regime’s fear of an informed citizenry. The site has been blocked by the State owned Telecom, its subsidiary Mobitel and the privately owned Dialog internet service providers. No reason has been given to the management of Lanka e News for this unlawful and anti-democratic blocking of this website.
The Right to Information is a fundamental right that has to be protected under any circumstances. By blocking Lanka e news the GOSL has violated this fundamental and sacred right of the people of Sri Lanka.
The immediate provocation for blocking this website seems to be its coverage of the killing of the Presidential Adviser Baratha Lashman Premachandra on 8th Oct 2011. He had been shot dead during an election related scuffle between him and Hon. Duminda Silva, a Member of Parliament and an Adviser to the Defence Ministry, who were two opposing politicians of the ruling coalition at the recent Municipal Elections in Colombo. The latter happens to be a close associate of the all-powerful Gotabhaya Rajapakse, Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and a brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse.
Lanka e News has been in the forefront, reporting on the alleged underworld connections of Duminda Silva, the complicity of the police in the killing of Premachandra and the subsequent covering up of the investigation into the incident. The website of Lanka e News published very informative stories on the issues concerned including interviews with politicians of the ruling party regarding the violent behavior of Duminda Silva.
The scuffle and the shooting that took place in broad day light on the day of local government elections has brought to the surface some of the fault lines of present regime which maintains its power by instilling fear into its opponents and practicing corruption. Leading politicians of the ruling party have directly and indirectly blamed Duminda Silva for various misdeeds such as his dealing in the sale of drugs, gun running and underworld connections while the Defence Secretary openly stood by him. Politicians of the Opposition also hold Duminda Silva responsible for using violence to break up their peaceful demonstrations. It is also alleged that Duminda Silva had been taking the Defence Secretary around canvassing for support for the Government Party at the election.
NfR views the blocking of Lanka e News as a high handed action intended to inhibit any informed discussion on the killing of Premachandra, in particular and on the upsurge of political violence and corrupt practices, in general.
The freedom to access information using the internet has been under pressure in Sri Lanka for years. Last week the GOSL announced that it has sought advice from the Attorney General on banning web sites which publish false news about the President and the country. This development has to be seen as another step towards silencing dissenting voices in the country and not taken on its face value. In Sri Lanka, State controlled media has become a huge political mechanism which churns out fabricated and slanderous news and stories vilifying all those who oppose the regime.
Meanwhile the head of TNL TV/Radio network Mr. Shan Wikramathunga has made a complaint to the police that a pro-government businessman had threatened him with death over his comments on Duminda Silva and on stock market irregularities.
It has been reported to the NfR that former Lanka e News correspondent Shantha Wijesuriya had been continuously followed and intimidated by police intelligence operatives without any reason. On 25th Oct 2011 the Free Media Movement accompanied him to make a complaint to the Police regarding this harassment.
While unreservedly condemning the blocking of Lanka e News site by the State, NfR express its fear that a new round of suppression of the media is in the offing. NfR calls all democratic forces within and outside Sri Lanka to give wide publicity to this dangerous trend and take whatever steps possible to stop it before it is too late.
Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka