Threats and Sackings Highlight Censorship in Sri Lanka, Says IFJ

Threats against a prominent political cartoonist in Sri Lanka over a cartoon published on December 7 in the weekly Lanka yet again highlight the insidious nature of efforts to impose censorship in Sri Lanka, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Winnie Hettigoda, who is also a writer and television producer, received repeated threats by phone on the evening of December 7 warning he had no right to draw the cartoon, according to the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), both IFJ affiliates.

Hettigoda lodged a complaint with the Koswatta police station. However, it is understood that police have not investigated the threats. Threats against several cartoonists for mainstream newspapers have been commonplace in recent years, according to the FMM and SLWJA.

In another effort to enforce censorship in Sri Lanka this week, two editors of the state-run Sunday Observer and Daily News were removed from their positions on December 9. According to the FMM, the demotions of Dinesh Weerawansa and Pramod de Silva were linked to the publication on December 7 of remarks by Sri Lanka’s army chief, Sarath Fonseka, which prompted India to protest to Sri Lanka’s Government.

Fonseka was cited as saying that India would have no influence on Sri Lanka to restore a ceasefire with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and it would not listen to the “political jokers” of Tamil Nadu in India whose “survival depends on the LTTE”. A government official refused to confirm whether the removal of Weerawansa and de Silva was linked to India’s protest about Fonseka’s published comments, according to the FMM. “That editors would be expected to censor the army chief underscores the insidious character of censorship in Sri Lanka,”

IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said. “Censorship, whether through threats against those who seek to express their views freely or the imposition of harsh sanctions against media personnel required to toe the government line, is failing the people of Sri Lanka.”

The IFJ joins the FMM and the SLWJA in calling on authorities to investigate promptly the threats against Hettigoda and to reinstate the two editors to their positions.