FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Fundamental Rights of Non-State Media Violated at “Temple of Justice”

Stanley Samarasinghe

The ceremonial sitting on 23 January to welcome the newly appointed Chief Justice, Mohan Peiris, began on an inauspicious note, which along with 2,000 odd lawyers of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka boycotting the sittings also saw the fundamental rights of the Fourth Estate, being violated.

More than 30 journalists from the private media, both print and electronic, who arrived in Hulftsdorp to cover the event, were prevented from entering the Supreme Court premises. The police, standing sentinel at the main gate, ensured photojournalists and TV camerapersons did not pass the main portal until such time the ceremonial sitting was concluded.

Several senior government members attending the ceremony volunteered to give voice cuts describing the ceremonial sitting. Perhaps, this was their way of making amends for the action of the organizers. Or maybe this was the plan all along to ensure only the positive aspect of the ceremony got relayed in the private media. But the barred journalists stood their grounds, refused the offer and said the organizers had kept them away from the court premises and deprived them of covering the event.

Later, journalists from the State media, who had access to the event anyway, were seen interviewing the benevolent government officials about the event.

Heavy security

The ceremonial sitting to welcome the new Chief Justice was held under heavy security with a large number of police officers deployed around the Court building.

It would not be an exaggeration to say the Ceremonial Hall was packed to the rafters and that all the seats were occupied by pro-government lawyers who hold key posts in corporations, boards and departments. Among them were lawyers from the outstations and the three forces, all of who ensured the occasion was well attended.

The reason for denying access to journalists, photojournalists and camera crew not affiliated to the State media, or who was responsible for the decision is not known and has not been revealed so far. However, police and the security personnel claimed the decision had come from someone high in the hierarchy.

Irrespective of who made the decision or who gave the order, the fact remains that in a democracy, everyone is equal before the law, and favouring some while denying others, is a breach of that right. The infringement is all the more serious as it happened, not in a political office but at the very temple of justice, the Supreme Court premises.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, just one day after the removal of Dr. Shirani Bandaranayake from the Chief Justice post, said the Court premises is the temple of justice, and therefore is a sacred place. Regrettably, the President’s avowal was blatantly violated a few days later, with the decision to bar the private media personnel and allow only the State media to cover an event that is of significance to the public on 23 January.

”COURTESY:CEYLON TODAY ( An edited version)

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