The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is extremely concerned about restrictions on reporting of defence matters in Sri Lanka after a court prohibited all Leader Publications newspapers publishing any information referring to the Defence Secretary until December 18.
According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, a magistrate granted the ex-parte injunction application by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on December 5. Rajapaksa accuses the Sunday Leader newspaper of publishing articles which allegedly defamed him.
In the national Parliament, United National Party parliamentarian Dayasiri Jayasekara reportedly said the Defence Secretary’s actions were intended to prevent the publication of a Sunday Leader exposé on the assassination of General Janaka Perera in a suicide attack in October.
“This is against the right of expression. This violates the fundamental right of expression enshrined in the Constitution,” Jayasekara told the Parliament.
Rajapaksa has had several confrontations with the media in Sri Lanka in 2008. After a peaceful demonstration in Colombo on May 27 to protest a violent attack on defence writer Keith Noyahr, Rajapaksa threatened the President and Secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, Sanath Balasooriya and Poddala Jayantha, saying the Government would not offer them safety or protection if they continued to advocate for press freedom in Sri Lanka.
“The two-week gag on Leader Publications is a setback for press freedom and further stifles independent media in Sri Lanka,” IFJ Asia-Pacific said.
The court hearing will resume on December 18, when Leader Publications will defend the publication of the allegedly defamatory material.
The IFJ joins the FMM in raising concerns about the Defence Secretary’s efforts to restrict reporting on defence matters and welcomes the move by some Members of Parliament to open dialogue on the public record to challenge the Government’s prevailing antagonism toward press freedom in Sri Lanka.