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Media still under attack, says international press mission

The long war between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended when the government declared victory this past May, but the assault on journalists in the country continues, according to the International Press Freedom Mission to Sri Lanka.

In an open letter released on 16 July, the mission called on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to release all of the journalists unjustly jailed during the conflict, take measures to ensure the safety of media workers and order security officials to stop barring journalists from accessing certain areas of the country.

The letter was signed by nine member organisations of the press freedom mission, including seven IFEX members, which has conducted three separate fact-finding missions in Sri Lanka in the past three years.

Since 2007, several journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka and none of the perpetrators have been brought to justice, according to the International Mission. In addition, at least 30 media workers have reportedly been kidnapped, beaten or threatened by security forces.

The mission's letter detailed an 11-point plan that the government must follow to redress the shocking free expression violations that continue to occur in Sri Lanka. Among its list of demands, the mission is asking the government to release imprisoned journalists J.S. Tissainayagam, B. Jasiharan and V. Vallarmathy, who have been detained since March 2008 on bogus charges under the 2006 Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Another demand called on authorities to allow both foreign and Sri Lankan journalists full and unconditional access to the Internally Displaced Peoples (IDP) camps, where, the New York Times reports, hundreds of thousands of Tamils are living in deplorable conditions.

The mission also petitioned for the repeal of the Press Council Act No. 5 of 1973, which allows journalists, editors and publishers to be slapped with lengthy prison sentences.

"We are aware that the task you face is enormous, but we hope that your conviction to ensure a prosperous and democratic future for Sri Lanka will lead you to make it a priority to strengthen press freedom as a vital pillar in the reconstruction of a unified Sri Lanka," the letter states.

The mission is comprised of IFEX members ARTICLE 19, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC), along with International Media Support (IMS) and the International News Safety Institute (INSI).
Open letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa

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