Under Pressure: Sri Lanka government urged to respect media rights

June 22, 2008 (LBO) – Twenty nine media organisations around the world have urged the United Nations to put pressure on the Sri Lankan government to protect journalists in the island.
The organisations affiliated to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said in a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that journalists in Sri Lanka had been receiving threats and had been abused by the authorities.
The letter was written to alert the UN secretary-general to statements by Sri Lanka’s government and military that “put journalists in grave danger”.

It said that in commentaries published on its website on Thursday 5 June 2008, the Defence Ministry labelled journalists critical of the war effort against Tamil rebels as “enemies of the state” and said it would take “all necessary measures to stop this journalistic treachery.”

This follows comments last January by Army Commander Sarath Fonseka who labelled some journalists as traitors.

“(We) condemn these statements, which risk encouraging those who have used extreme violence against journalists and other news professionals in the country,” the letter said.

The global survey of news media casualties, presented to Secretary-General Ban by the International News Safety Institute last December, placed Sri Lanka 14th out of more than 70 countries where journalists died trying to do their jobs over the past decade.

“Journalists continue to work there in conditions of fear and harassment.”
The media organisations said they all fully support the UN Security Council Resolution 1738 on journalism in conflict zones, which urges all parties in situations of armed conflict to respect the professional independence and rights of journalists, media professionals and associated personnel.

“We seek your support in urging all United Nations member states to respect Resolution 1738 in letter and in spirit, and specifically request your help in persuading the government of Sri Lanka to withdraw these statements and immediately stop all actions which undermine the independence and safety of the news community,” the letter said.

Meanwhile, the Free Media Movement in Sri Lanka called on the government to free journalist J S Tissainayagam who has been detained without charge for over 100 days.

Tissainayagam, who was a regular columnist for The Sunday Times and the Editor of www.outreachsl.com news website was detained on March 6, 2008 by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka Police.

He is detained under powers granted by Emergency Regulations currently in force, and has been given no specific and legally valid reasons for his detention at the time or since, the FMM said in a statement.

His detention has been extended by a further 90 days.

The FMM said it urged the authorities to charge him as soon as possible, if there was sufficient evidence to sustain a prosecution against him.

“After 100 days of detention, however, the authorities have been unable to frame any charges, making it abundantly clear that they have no credible evidence against Tissainayagam,” the FMM said.

It noted that Tissainayagam suffers from an eye aliment that can be aggravated by stress and called for his right to proper health care to be respected whilst in detention.

In a separate statement the International News Safety Institute (INSI), an NGO dedicated to the safety of news media in dangerous situations, called on Sri Lanka’s government to ensure the safety of its representative, Sri Lankan journalist Frederica Jansz.

It said an unidentified person phoned Jansz at 11.30 am on June 14 and threatened her.

Jansz is former Deputy Editor of the Sunday Leader, Editor of the monthly magazine Montage and an investigative journalist.

“This latest threat against the life of a journalist, even in Sri Lanka’s turmoil, is completely unacceptable,” said INSI Director Rodney Pinder. “We call on the government of Sri Lanka to investigate this threat swiftly and comprehensively and to ensure Ms Jansz’s safety.”