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Six IFEX members have told the Sri Lankan authorities that they are grossly ineffective in protecting journalists, and are even to blame for further endangering their lives.

Amid a background of violence following the collapse of the ceasefire between the government and the Tamil Tigers in January, journalists are directly in the line of fire, whether they are reporting in conflict zones or being threatened or attacked by senior officials displeased with independent critical commentary.

"Recent actions by authorities indicate an irresponsible and dangerous disregard for the rights of journalists and media institutions to report freely and without threat of violence," states a joint statement by the six IFEX members, as well as other Asia-Pacific affiliates and partners of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ).

Last month, Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary publicly called for media censorship, the return of criminal defamation and the prosecution of two leading media institutions for "critical reportage," reports the Free Media Movement.

Then, in the same week in January, two journalists were stabbed after receiving death threats, says FMM. One of them, Lal Hemantha Mawalage, was a news producer at the state-controlled television station SLRC. He and other staff journalists had protested when Sri Lanka's Labour Minister stormed into the station in December and assaulted the news director. The death threats and knifing are seen as retaliation for taking part in the protest.

According to FMM, a worrisome number of journalists have received death threats since the knife attacks.

The authorities are creating a climate of self-censorship, which is "fuelling a dangerous cycle of misinformation and conflict," say the members. "Journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to act in the public interest."

The IFEX members and IFJ partners, meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the regional meeting of IFJ Asia-Pacific, are urging the President and his government to immediately stop attacking and publicly vilifying journalists, to rein in the anti-media activities of officials, and to bring to account the perpetrators.

The members also demand that the government stop interfering in editorial independence, from using draconian anti-terrorist and press laws, to imposing economic or legal sanctions, such as restricting newsprint or freezing assets.

The IFEX member signatories are: IFJ, FMM, Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia), Federation of Nepali Journalists, Hong Kong Journalists Association, and Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance (Australia).

Visit these links:
- Joint letter:
- FMM:
- IFEX Sri Lanka page:
- "Silencing Dissent", a major report on attacks on the press in Sri Lanka, by Amnesty International:
(12 February 2008)

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