December 15, 2018

Press Freedom

Sri Lanka

OPC Protests Continuing Intimidation of Local Media in Sri Lanka

H.E. Mahinda Rajapaksa
President
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Fax: (011.94.11) 243.0590

Your Excellency:

The members of the Overseas Press Club of America (OPC) would like to congratulate you on your re-election as president. You have indeed tackled a great many issues this past year. The defeat of the Tamil Tigers and the re-settlement of the thousands of internally displaced has gained you much popularity across Sri Lanka.

Your government has underscored several central goals for your coming term, notably social and economic development. We hope to add press freedom to your list as part of an overall agenda in improving social development throughout Sri Lanka. To continue the work of mitigating Sri Lanka’s ethnic divide, in particular during the upcoming trial of your electoral opponent General Fonseka, the freedom you allow Sri Lanka’s local media will be key in bringing the nation together.

As reported by the global press watchdog group, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), there have been multiple incidents in Sri Lanka that are affecting our Sri Lankan colleagues since the beginning of 2010. In January alone:

  • On 31 January, your government ordered the deportation of Swiss journalist, Karin Wenger, who covered presidential elections for Swiss public radio. According to your spokesman, the deportation was ordered due to the belief that “false information” was being spread. The OPC still has not been able to find evidence for that allegation.
  • On 30 January, authorities closed the offices of the weekly, Colombo Sinhalese Lanka. On that same day, offices of the news Web site, Lanka e news, were also surrounded by police.
  • On January 28, Ravi Abewikrama, a reporter for state radio, SLBC, was assaulted by one of your officials who accused him of criticizing the biased coverage of elections.
  • On January 26, soldiers were deployed in and around buildings of private television channels — Sirasa and Swarnavahini — an event that prompted our colleagues at RWB to appeal for an end to the arrest and intimidation of the private and foreign press, observing that the wave of post-election violence could permanently impair the beginning of your second term.


The harassment and intimidation of our Sri Lankan colleagues have only continued in recent weeks. IFEX, the global network for free expression, appealed just last month for the immediate release of Jaffna journalist, N. Parameswaran, a journalist for The Daily Mirror and Lankadeepa as well as the BBC Tamil service. Parameswaran was arrested in Jaffna on 27 February by a group of supporters of the Sri Lanka Peoples’ Party — one of your new government’s constituent parties. IFEX called Parameswara’s detention a “blatant act of thuggery at the time of an election when peoples’ right to information acquires a paramount importance.”

Parameswara’s case is not an isolated one. Since the announcement of election results, police officials and unidentified groups have maintained their attacks on the media, especially those that supported opposition candidate, General Sarath Fonseka. These new threats have been denounced by journalist organizations in Sri Lanka including the Free Media Movement, Sri Lanka Journalists Association, Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions, Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance and the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum.

We join our colleagues in voicing grave concern about the treatment of these journalists. We call on you to take immediate action as proof of your new government’s commitment to democratic principals.

Respectfully yours,

Tala Dowlatshahi
Kevin McDermott
Freedom of the Press Committee

cc:

H.E. Ratnasiri Wickramanayake
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
No. 58 Sir Ernest de Silva Mawatha
Colombo 07
Dem. Soc. Republic of Sri Lanka
Fax: (011.94.11) 257.5454

Hon. Anura Priyadarshana Yapa
Ministry of Mass Media and Information
163, Kirulapone Mawatha
Polhengoda, Colombo 05
Dem. Soc. Republic of Sri Lanka
Fax: (011.94.11) 251.3462

Hon. Mahinda Samarasinghe
Disaster Management & Human Rights
2 Wijerama Mawatha
Colombo 7
Dem. Soc. Republic of Sri Lanka
Fax: (011.94.11) 268.1980

Mr. Victor Perera
Inspector General of Police
Sri Lanka Police Headquarters
101/1 Kew Road
Colombo 2
Dem. Soc. Republic of Sri Lanka
Fax: (011.94.11) 239.0433

H.E. Jaliya Wickramasuriya
Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the U.S.A.
Embassy of the Dem. Soc. Republic of Sri Lanka
2148 Wyoming Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20008
Fax: (202) 232.7181

Ambassador Palitha Kohona
Permanent Representative
Permanent Mission of the Dem. Soc. Republic of Sri Lanka
630 Third Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Fax: (212) 986.1838

H.E. Patricia A. Butenis
U.S. Ambassador to Sri Lanka
Embassy of the United States of America
210 Gaile Road
Colombo 03
Sri Lanka
Fax: (011.94.11) 244.9070

The Editor
Daily Mirror
Sri Lanka
editorial@dailymirror.wnl.lk

The Editor
The Island
Sri Lanka
prabath@unl.upali.lk

Acting Editor
The Sunday Leader
24, Katukurunduwatte Road
Ratmalana, Sri Lanka
Fax : 011-94-75-365891
editor@thesundayleader.lk