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Thousand-strong march to protest escalating attacks "the strongest show of solidarity for media freedom in recent times," says IFJ

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an IFJ media release:

Journalists in Sri Lanka Take to the Streets in Act of Solidarity

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) strongly supports the thousand-strong protest march for press freedom in Colombo on February 14 and urges the Government of Sri Lanka to hear their demands.

Organised by the Movement Against Media Suppression, hundreds of journalists were joined on the march by a broad cross section of Sri Lankan society, including many from the trade union movement, human rights activists, civil society and the women's movement.

The Movement against Media Suppression is convened by IFJ affiliates the Free Media Movement, the Working Journalists Association and the Media Employees Trade Union together with other media rights groups.

In the strongest show of solidarity for media freedom in recent times, media groups and civil society pledged to work together to defend and promote freedom of expression.

Protesters demanded a quick and transparent investigation into killings and attacks against journalists, an end to intimidation and harassment of media, a termination of unofficial censorship, and the right for the media to report the conflict between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) from all sides.

This protest comes after an escalation of violence and threats towards journalists and continued restrictions on reporting the war. On January 25, the producer in the news division of the state-controlled Sri Lanka, Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC), Lal Hemantha Mawalage, was the victim of a knife attack, while on his way home in Athurigirua. In a similar incident, the Free Media Movement (FMM) reported that five intruders forced entry into the home of another journalist working for state-controlled Thinakaran, Suhaib M. Kasim, on January 28, and stabbed him.

So far in 2008, there have been eight reported cases of violence and threats towards journalists in Sri Lanka. In 2007, seven journalists and media workers were killed, making Sri Lanka one of the most dangerous countries for journalists in the world.

"These protests show a deep desire among Sri Lankans to safeguard their rights to access reliable and timely information both on the conflict and matters generally. We hope the Government of Sri Lanka will hear these demands and understand that freedom of expression is the key to democracy," said IFJ Asia Pacific Director, Jacqueline Park.

The IFJ strongly urges Sri Lanka's Government to enforce the United Nations Security Council Resolution to Protect Journalists Reporting in War Zones and Crisis Areas, adopted by the UN Security Council in 2006.

The Resolution stipulates "that all parties to an armed conflict comply fully with the obligations applicable to them under international law related to the protection of civilians in armed conflict, including journalists, media professionals and associated personnel".

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries.

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