[2008-05-02 4.35pm] Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe says the government is trying to prevent criticism against it by exerting pressure on the independent media by accusing them of treason and intimidating them with death threats.
He was delivering an oration at the 15th death commemoration of Lalith Athulathmudali at the BMICH on April 28th.
Mr. Wickremesinghe said, “Our law provides for freedom of speech and the freedom of the press. Yet, government censorship and control of all major media outlets are undermining the social, civil and political right to free speech and the right to a free and effective media.”
“These rights are essential values upon which democratic societies are founded. By infringing upon these rights, the Government is not only suppressing the freedom and independence of its own people, but also constraining the right of the people to be informed – thus subverting the democratic process.”
“Currently, the Government exerts continual pressure on independent media institutions by accusing them of treason and intimidating them with death threats to prevent them from criticizing the Government.”
“Journalists in the south are temporarily imprisoned; some unfortunately practice self-censorship, while others seek refuge abroad.”
“Abductions, disappearances, beating and killing of reporters and journalists have become increasingly more common, resulting in a pervasive fear among the nation’s media personnel.”
“On March 13 2007 the Government froze the assets of Standard Newspapers Limited, publisher of Mawbima and English language Sunday Standard, which ceased publishing on March 29 2007.”
“I will not go into the details of the threats made by Dr Mervin Silva – Minister of Labour in relation to Rupavahini. The disgraceful incident at Rupavahini and the subsequent attacks on the Rupavahini staff has become a part of the horror story. What shocks me is the fact that despite such blatant revelations the Government has not done anything to investigate the matter.”
“Staff of Udayan and Sudar Oli newspapers have been subjected to numerous attacks by State agencies and paramilitary groups identified with the Government This includes the killing of five employees. Both Managing Director and Editor have been subjected to threats.”
“Iqbal Athas, the Defence Correspondent of Sunday Times has been subject to regular threats and had to leave the country.”
“The license of the ABC Radio was cancelled for reporting the presence of LTTE in Yala. Recently, some of the license of the ABC Radio was restored with Government nominees on the Board.”
“The Sunday Leader Newspapers had the ‘privilege’ of the visit by agents of the Government disguised in civilian clothes and the cost of that was burning of the building and part of the machinery.”
“Some of the other instances are:
Chevaan Daniel, Kingsley Ratnayaka and Susil Kedelpitya, of MBC TV and Radio network, SLWJA President Sanath Balasooriya and FMETU General Secretary Dharmasiri Lankapeli, among others, threatened in relation to the SLRC incident.
Social Services and Social Welfare Minister K.N. Douglas Devananda called Shakti TV Minnal presenter Sri Ranga Jeyarathnam a terrorist and a traitor.
“SLWJA Secretary Poddala Jayantha suffered attempted abduction at his home by an unknown gang.”
“Lal Hemantha Mawalage of Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation was threatened by an unidentified person who told him to get his coffin ready.”
“SLRC librarian Ranjani Aluthge stabbed in the back and shoulder while travelling on a bus.”
“7 journalists and media workers from www.outreachsl.com were taken in for questioning by Terrorist Investigations Department and not permitted to notify their families of their whereabouts.”
“J.S. Tissainayagam, Editor, and N. Jasiharan, of E-Kwality Printers, remain in custody as of March 20.”
“SLRC journalist Anurasiri Hettige was beaten with an iron rod by an unidentified gang.”
“The father and sister of journalist Munusami Parameshwari seriously injured at home by armed intruders. The group warned that Parameshwari would risk death if she returned to Gampola. Parameshwari remains in hiding.”
“International Press Institute Report of June 2007 on Sri Lanka noted “the pressures on the media have multiplied, […] with increasing fears for the safety of journalists”.
“The report also criticized the Government for a lack of progress in the investigations of murdered and attacked journalists.”
“On November 18, 2007, the International Press Institute (IPI) added Sri Lanka to their watch list, a list of countries in which the freedom of press has rapidly deteriorated.”
“The Board voted unanimously to add Sri Lanka to this list. Today, Sri Lanka is known as the third most dangerous place for journalists after Iraq and Somalia,” Mr. Wickremesinghe added.