For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The Government of Sri Lanka has banned several websites and directed that all websites reporting on Sri Lanka be registered with the Ministry of Mass Media. The real purpose of the ban is implied in the statement issued by Ministry of Mass Media and Information. It states “the contents of certain reports found on the websites are injurious to the image of country, Head of the State, Ministers, Senior Public Officials, VVIPP who have been targeted in this deliberate character assassination campaign.”
Lawyers for Democracy (LfD) states that the present regime fears criticism, dissent and any democratic challenge on their undemocratic and corrupt actions. In the recent past, Sri Lanka has had a questionable track record of limiting freedom of expression with dozens of journalists being killed and few media institutions being attacked. In none of these cases, were there any credible investigations. A considerable number of journalists are living in exile in fear for their lives. Several popular websites have now been banned without any legal basis and are inaccessible.
In addition, government owned media institutions conduct themselves as the legitimate propaganda units of the ruling party. Self censorship dominates private media institutions, except a few. The media regulating institutions have been packed with politically bias individuals. Due to their own political bias and systemic failures, the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission and Department of Information are unable to perform their duties independently with integrity, in a way which safeguards the constitutionally guaranteed liberties of citizens. In the recent past, internet and social media created a space for public expression on sensitive and political challenging issues, including the very conduct of the regime and its close circle. The internet ban should thus be viewed seriously in this backdrop. LfD emphasizes that the public should have access to internet, particularly the web sites exposing corruption and abuses of power. Human rights norms, including the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, guarantee free expression of views and opinion, however distasteful it may be for a government. As our Supreme Court has time and again recognized, “the right to criticize governments and political parties is fundamental to the democratic way of life. Freedom of expression cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice, which lie at the base of all civil and political institutions.”
LfD concludes this statement with an often quoted judgment of Justice Brandeis in Whitney vs. California
“Those who won our independence were not cowards. They did not fear political changes. Fear of serious injury cannot justify suppression of free speech.”
We urge the government to immediately withdraw this unconstitutional decision to introduce a ban on certain websites and the registration requirement for websites.
Lawyers of Democracy (LfD) is a representative body of legal practitioners throughout the island and include Lal Wijenayaka, Chandra Kumarage, K.S.Ratnavale, V. Sumanthiran, Sudath Nethesinghe, L. Jothikumar, Ranjit Wijekoon, Sujeewa Lal Dahanayake, J.C.Weliamuna and Sudarshana Gunawardena
Sgd/ Lal Wijenayake, Convener of Lawyers for Democracy (LfD)
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