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Journalists In Sri Lanka Petition National Human Rights Commission

2013 Aug 29

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) extends its support to affiliates and partners in Sri Lanka, in their effort to secure the active involvement of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), in addressing long neglected issues of media freedom in the country.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ-affiliate, coordinated the meeting with the NHRC Chairman, Justice Priyantha Perera, on August 27, at which a letter was handed over with the explicit endorsement of six other media freedom bodies, including the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, also an IFJ affiliate.

The letter refers to the most recent violations of press freedom, such as the threats and attacks against journalists covering public protests against water pollution in a village near Colombo on August 1; the armed intrusion of August 24 into a journalist couple’s home in Colombo, done with obvious intent to intimidate; and the continuing attacks on the personnel and premises of a Tamil newspaper based in the northern city of Jaffna.

The letter also draws attention to the many impediments and the outright official hostility that journalists faced when travelling in the north of the country to report on the process of rehabilitation of internally displaced persons in regions worst affected by the civil war that ended in 2009.

Aside from these more recent instances, the FMM and its partners remind the NHRC that longstanding issues involving even acts of lethal violence against journalists have remained unredressed. The columnist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda went missing in January 2010 and aside from frequent utterances of surpassing irresponsibility by official spokespersons about him being in voluntary exile abroad, there has been little by way of a credible official effort to locate him.

The killing of the Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in January 2009 and the brutal assault on SLWJA leader Poddala Jayantha in June that year – both carried out in broad daylight in the near environs of Colombo city – remain uninvestigated, with no charges laid against any of those responsible.

The FMM has also strongly reminded the NHRC that all efforts by journalists bodies to seek remedy for past atrocities and dispel the climate of impunity, have been met by a campaign of “false allegations and provocative statements made by state media against journalists, press freedom activists, human rights defenders and others”.

Sri Lanka’s journalists have through their representative bodies, asked the NHRC to inquire into the “progress or lack of progress” of police investigations into the cases cited, and to make a “preliminary update” available by October 31.

The joint representation to the NHRC also requests the constitutional watchdog of human rights to use all available powers to keep parliament briefed on the progress of investigations and to prevail upon the government to enact the empowering legislation that it has for long years been in default on: such as a right to information law.

Sri Lanka’s journalists have also called for a repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) which exerts a chilling effect on the free and fair practice of journalism and continues to be in force despite the civil war being long since declared over.

“We urge the NHRC to pay due attention to the diligent documentation produced by the FMM and other partner organisations regarding the dismal media freedom situation in Sri Lanka”, said the IFJ Asia Pacific.

“The human rights record in the country and in particular, the media freedom situation, continue to be under serious scrutiny, despite the formal acceptance by the Government of Sri Lanka of a series of far-reaching recommendations by a commission appointed by the President after the civil war, to report on national reconciliation measures”.

“The NHRC should act decisively at this stage to check the growing sense of drift and disillusionment among the country’s journalists and wider civil society”.

“Journalists and human rights defenders in Sri Lanka look forward to enjoying the peace dividend that was promised at the end of the country’s civil war in 2009”.

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