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Official warns that criticism of military will be considered treasonous

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM press release:

Government labels media watchdog role as "treacherous"

9 October 2007, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The FMM is shocked and dismayed to note the most recent edict of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS) against the media.

As first reported in the "Daily Mirror" newspaper on 8 October 2007, while urging the media to refrain from publishing any reports that would undermine the efforts of the armed forces, the Director General of the MCNS, Lakshman Hulugalle, told the media that: "We consider anyone who criticizes the defence forces to be a traitor to the nation as such people undermine the lives of armed forces personnel."

The FMM unequivocally condemns this heinous expression. We strongly affirm that professional media must, especially in a context of war, be given the freedom to report in the public interest and to critique government decisions that have a bearing on the safety and security of all citizens. Investigative reporting, in fact, strengthens the accountability of government and holds to public scrutiny practices that undermine democratic governance.

Regrettably, however, media in Sri Lanka are under incredible pressure to supinely conform and comply with the incumbent government's propaganda line on conflict and peace. Any journalist who questions or critiques this official line is immediately the target of hate speech and rabid public condemnation. For example, recalling the FMM statement on 2 October, we note that the article on the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense website, containing unsubstantiated allegations that defense analyst and senior journalist Mr. Iqbal Athas is involved in psychological operations of the [rebel army] LTTE, and the pronouncements by government military spokesperson Brigadier Udaya Nanayakakara that Mr. Athas' writing constituted "a clear support to terrorism" and that the "people should consider these articles as treacherous acts", have not been retracted to date.

This latest affront to free media and freedom of expression follows a series of exceptional statements by a number of high officials in government, including senior ministers and the Secretary of Defense, who have grossly undermined media freedom, severely curtailed free speech and stifled investigative reporting on defense-related matters and high-level corruption.

We strongly urge the visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, to bring these disturbing developments to the attention of the government.

We also seek the help and support of the international community and all democratic forces to condemn this seemingly inexorable erosion of media rights and urge the government to fervently support the full restitution of media freedom and the freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

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