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Defence secretary calls journalists "traitors," urges ban on independent media

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

Defence Secretary calls journalists 'traitors' and calls for ban on independent media

5 May 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - It was reported in the "Daily Mirror" today ( http://www.dailymirror.lk/DM_BLOG/Sections/frmNewsDetailView.aspx?ARTID=13708 ) that, in a recent interview, the defence secretary and brother of the president, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, called for a ban on independent media outlets that he thought published news stories detrimental to the security forces.

"Mr. Rajapaksa further termed as 'traitors' those who published reports seen as harmful towards the security forces and military operations, and stressed that such media should be banned."

This is not the first time the younger brother of the president openly threatens media. In April 2007, he telephoned the editor of the "Daily Mirror", Champika Liyanaarachchi, and threatened her, saying that she would escape reprisals only if she resigned from her post. He also threatened to "exterminate" the "Daily Mirror" journalist Uditha Jayasinghe for writing articles about the plight of civilian war casualties. In January 2008, in an interview with the "Irida Lankadeepa" newspaper, Rajapakse openly stated that media has to be censored and criminal defamation laws reinstituted.

"I think that there is no need to report anything on the military. People do not want to know how many and what kind of arms we acquired. That is not media freedom. I tell without fear that if I have power I will not allow any of these things to be written. I told the president that we need to bring in press censorship from the beginning."

The FMM, in a statement issued at the time to condemn this incredible pronouncement, averred that chilling warnings from a defense secretary with unbridled power but lacking sound judgment constituted a significant threat to freedom of expression and media freedom in Sri Lanka. Today, the threats have significantly grown. Nepotism, impunity and effrontery are the hallmarks of a coterie in government who, as RSF noted recently, are predators of media freedom in Sri Lanka.

The FMM unequivocally condemns the defence secretary's statements. A regime that openly calls for censorship, clamps down on critical voices of dissent and is defined by vulturine thugs who prey on independent media is antithetical to the strengthening of media freedom in Sri Lanka.

The FMM seeks urgent clarification of these matters from the government and the president. Statements such as these must be condemned. The defence secretary must be held accountable for his words and reigned in. Independent media today faces unprecedented challenges in Sri Lanka in the pursuit of accurate, responsible and impartial journalism. Sadly, the most significant of these challenges come from the government in the South.

For more alerts and reports on media freedom in Sri Lanka, visit the FMM's blog: http://freemediasrilanka.wordpress.com

For further information on the Liyanaarachchi case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/82619

For further information on the Jayasinghe case, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/82647

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