Thursday 5 July 2007

Sri Lanka accused of curbing freedom of expression

Sri Lankan journalists are increasingly worried about their safety, and the government has done little to protect them - even further endangering their lives, the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Sri Lanka has found on its return visit to the country. The delegation of the international mission, comprised of five international press freedom and media development organisations, including IFEX members the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), found that eight months after their original mission, safety issues are more important than at any stage in the past year and a half. An increasing number of journalists were killed, kidnapped, arrested, assaulted and threatened - especially in conflict zones in the north and east. Most recently, Subash Chandraboas of the Tamil monthly "Nilram" and Selvarajah Rajivarman of the "Uthayan" newspaper were murdered in April in government-controlled areas. Although a special police unit was set up to investigate threats and disappearances, the mission saw little to demonstrate that action against impunity had been taken. Meanwhile, the authorities have been openly hostile to media workers, and are helping to create a climate of self-censorship, the delegation found. Government ministers have verbally attacked journalists, jeopardising their safety as well as their families'. In Jaffna, the government has restricted the passage of newsprint and ink to the city's Tamil media, blaming "transport restrictions." The authorities have also used tax officials to raid media organisations. Just last week, the leading Tamil information website, Tamilnet.com, was blocked by Sri Lankan Internet service providers (ISPs) on government orders. According to the Free Media Movement, a government minister said that he would love to hire hackers to disable it entirely, but hasn't found anyone yet to do the job. The mission is calling on the government to urgently undertake thorough investigations in the murder and threatening of media workers, devote special attention to workers in conflict-affected areas, and facilitate the presence of a United Nations human rights monitoring mission.

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