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Police officials harass independent news website recently labeled by government as "treacherous"; its editor continually threatened

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 24 June 2008 FMM press release:

Police question web media organization

23 June 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka - The FMM is deeply disturbed to learn that officers of Criminal Investigation Department (CID) visited the offices of http://www.lankaenews.com on 17 June 2008 and questioned its editor, Sandaruwan Senadeera, and its news editor, Benet Rupasinghe, for three and a half hours. Lankaenews.com is one of the eight media institutions recently named by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense as being "treacherous" and "partial to terrorists". The editor of Lankaenews.com has been receiving threatening phone calls and hate mail for over than a year because of its independent news coverage.

Lakshman Hulugalla, director of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), has filed a complaint against the website, saying that it has violated the media guidelines issued by the MCNS in August 2006.

In a letter sent to media institutions and dated 20 September 2006, the Ministry of Defense, Public Security, Law and Order indirectly requested the submission of all news related to national security to the MCNS prior to publication, telecast or broadcast. The letter noted: "Please be advised that any news gathered by your institution through your own sources with regard to national security and defense should be subjected to clarification and confirmation from the MCNS in order to ensure that correct information is published, telecast or broadcast."

In a release issued on 30 September 2006, in response to these "guidelines", the FMM stated: "Strongly disapproving this request, the FMM sincerely hopes the Government, Ministry of Defense and the MCNS reconsider their decision to impose a regime of censorship on media and instead allow for the dissemination of information in a free and open manner, as befits the democratic credentials of the Sri Lankan state."

The concerns of the FMM were valid. The CID questioned Lankaenews.com on a news story that appeared on 21 February 2008, pressuring the news service to disclose its sources and other matters related to the story. The FMM notes in this regard that media in any democracy has a right to keep sources confidential; this is particularly vital in Sri Lanka, under a regime viciously driven by the desire to quell all sources of dissent.

In a joint statement, the five major media organizations in Sri Lanka - including the FMM - voiced their protest against this action by the MCNS. The MCNS is not a body mandated to pass media laws in Sri Lanka or to pass judgment on journalists and the media. That the MCNS does engage in this sort of behaviour is indicative of the regime's stance towards media freedom and freedom of expression. Deny it as the authorities may, the repression of dissent in Sri Lanka, through open intimidation of and violence against journalists, is rife. This latest action by the CID, to control independent media by fear and coercion, is yet another example of this.

The FMM once more calls upon the government to respect the right of journalists to write independently, and urges it to strengthen and meaningfully support media freedom in Sri Lanka.

For further information on the September 2006 Defence Ministry letter to media institutions, see: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/77543

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