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GOVERNMENT TRIES TO REINTRODUCE CRIMINAL DEFAMATION

The Sri Lankan government is intent on bringing back criminal defamation laws, the Free Media Movement (FMM) and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) report.

According to FMM, an emergency paper - backed by the Sri Lankan president - that calls for defamation to be punishable with prison terms was submitted to a Cabinet meeting on 27 June. The paper is reportedly on hold as three ministers stand opposed to bringing back the laws.

IFJ says it is "firmly opposed to criminal defamation laws, which are so often abused by those in power to silence journalists and stifle dissent."

Following national and international campaigning, criminal defamation was repealed by the United National Party (UNP) government unanimously in June 2002 (the UNP is now the major opposition party). According to FMM, criminal defamation had until then been used extensively to silence and persecute critical journalists and suppress independent media organisations. At the beginning of 2002, for instance, five cases were filed against Victor Ivan, the editor of "Ravaya" newspaper. He joined four other editors who were also facing criminal defamation charges at the time.

IFJ has just returned to Sri Lanka as part of the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission, which found that editorial pressures - including from the government - and threats to journalists have only worsened in the past year.

Visit these links:
- FMM: http://tinyurl.com/2mrlp9
- IFJ: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=5077&Language=EN
- "IFEX Communiqué" on international mission: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/84421/
(3 July 2007)

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