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Cabinet receives emergency proposal to reintroduce criminal defamation

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 27 June 2007 FMM press release:

Attempts to reintroduce criminal defamation law

The FMM is shocked and dismayed by attempts by the present government to bring back the criminal defamation law, which was repealed by the UNP government in June 2002 as a result of campaigns by national as well as international media and press freedom organisations. The FMM has credible evidence that, on behalf of the president, an emergency Cabinet paper was submitted to the Cabinet meeting held on 27 June 2007 in this regard. It was put on hold as three ministers opposed the reintroduction of criminal defamation.

Criminal defamation had been used extensively in the past to silence critical reportage and to persecute editors and journalists. For example, five cases were filed in the High Court of Colombo against Victor Ivan, the editor of the "Ravaya" newspaper, in the beginning of 2002. Four other mainstream newspaper editors were also facing criminal defamation charges.

Further, criminal defamation had been used to suppress corruption, investigative journalism and independent media institutions. Penal provisions of the law were being used by state for partisan purposes and to restrict information flow to the public. The repeal of the law (act no. 12, June 2002) was supported by all political parties represented in the government and unanimously passed.

This attempt by the government to reintroduce criminal defamation clearly shows the hollowness of its promises to protect freedom of expression rights in Sri Lanka.

The FMM urges national and international media and press freedom organisations to rally around to defeat any attempts to bring back this anti-media law in Sri Lanka by the present rulers. The FMM would like to reiterate that if the law is reintroduced it will be a major setback for media freedom in Sri Lanka.

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