For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
An Appeal from media freedom groups in Sri Lanka to all participants at the, Galle Literary Festival, 2012
As Sri Lankan journalists and media persons committed to media freedom and to the freedom of expression and opinion in Sri Lanka and in the world, we reach out to welcome all of you who have gathered here, in Galle, in January 2012, to participate in the 6th Galle Literary Festival, which is well known as a space for intellectual dialogue and creative exchange in the fields of literature, arts and culture.
We want to draw your attention to the fact that the month of January, in which we are celebrating the arts and culture here in Galle, is also a month which is marked by many of us with various acts of commemoration and mourning. It was in January 2007 that Sugirtharajan, a photojournalist in Trincomalee, was shot and killed for having published the photographs of five students who had been excecuted by the security forces. In 2009, Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor of the English weekly the Sunday Leader was shot and killed while on his work on January 8. In January 2010, cartoonist and writer Prageeth Ekneligoda, was abducted. In none of these cases has anyone ever been prosecuted.
During the years in which the government of Sri Lanka was engaged in a war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (the LTTE), the government also launched a war against the media and against the freedom of expression. Through formal and informal censorship and through attacks and intimidation, they have silenced the diversity of opinion in our country. The prevailing climate of impunity has created an environment in which self-censorship has become the norm. The role of the media in building a strong body of conscious citizens, which is a cornerstone of any democratic society, is undermined.
In the last six years, close to 40 media persons have been assassinated. Many more have been subject to brutal assaults. Five media institutions have been destroyed by arson attacks. Many newspapers have closed down. Access to websites has been blocked. Those who challenge this situation are regularly attacked and vilified in the media, both state-owned and private. There are no credible investigations into any of these incidents. Over fifty media persons have fled the country as a result of this situation. The final report of the government’s own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission, which was made public in November, calls for investigations into attacks on journalists and reminds the state of its obligation to ensure freedom of expression, opinion and information.
As you enjoy an environment in which you may discuss matters of literature and the arts in relative comfort and freedom, we appeal to you to recall the reality of our situation, and to engage with it in your discussion forums. Support the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka in every way that is open to you, here and once you have returned to your homes. Give our message wings to fly with so that our appeal for media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka will echo around the world.
Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association (SLWJA)
Federation of Media Employers Trade Union (FMETU)
Sri Lanka Muslim Media Fedaration (SLMMF)
Sri Lanka Tamil Journalist Alliance (SLTJA)
South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA – Sri Lanka)
Media Movement for Democracy (MMD)
Free Media Movement (FMM)