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Authorities attempt to prevent foreign media from covering elections in Eastern Province

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

Attempt to bar foreign media from covering Eastern province PC election

FMM expresses its concern at the government's attempt to bar foreign media from covering provincial council elections in Eastern Province, scheduled for 10 May 2008.

Military authorities turned back journalist Ravi Nesman and photographer Gamunu Amarasinghe of the Associated Press, insisting that they need special permission to cover the election in the East. Nesman and Amarasinghe were stopped at a checkpoint in the eastern town of Valaichchenai and ordered to leave the province and head straight back to the capital, Colombo. Apparently all check points on the main road were informed of the incident and of the license plate of the car in which the journalists were traveling. On their way back, they were told at every check point not to take any by-roads. FMM views this action by military officials as nothing less than crude intimidation.

Maj. Gen. Palitha Fernando, a senior official in the Ministry of Defense (MOD), told the journalists that foreign media need special permission to cover the elections, although no government authority provided information on this supposed new restriction or on how to obtain such permission.

MOD later reversed its decision, after journalists' rights groups and election monitoring organizations raised the issue with authorities, protesting the arbitrary decision of its officials. General Fernando later said there had been a misunderstanding, that journalists would be allowed to cover the election, and that the reporters were allowed to return to the East.

Discouraging media from covering the Eastern Province election is a direct infringement on people's right to information and this incident shows how easily this fundamental right is violated in Sri Lanka today, in the name of national security.

FMM calls for an investigation as to why there was an attempt to bar foreign media from covering this very crucial election. The identity of whoever was responsible for this anti-media decision should be made public. FMM urges all government authorities to extend their fullest cooperation to journalists and media outlets covering the 10 May election.

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