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Government-run newspaper attacks FMM secretary; news editor removed from post at Sinhala-language weekly

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is a 7 April 2009 IFJ media release:

Journalists' Organisations in Sri Lanka Feel Anti-Media Heat

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says ongoing interrogation of journalists' leaders in Sri Lanka is a bullying tactic that only serves to highlight an intolerance of freedom of expression and the failure of democratic processes in the country.

According to local media reports, leaders and members of leading national journalists' organisations have faced intimidation, violation of their rights, demotion and interrogation as a result of their media activism in recent weeks.

Government-run newspaper Dinamina published an article attacking the Free Media Movement (FMM) Secretary, Sunil Jayasekera, on March 25 for saying publicly "this is the most oppressive time for journalists in Sri Lanka."

Dinamina alleged Jayasekera's comments at a Platform for Freedom media conference on March 19 expressed anti-government sentiment.

Lawyer Sudarshana Gunawardana, from Platform for Freedom, publicly defended Jayasekera, saying, "There was nothing false or anti-state in what he said. He was merely talking about the terror that journalists face these days when they practise freedom of expression. What this attack on him in the Dinamina has done is proved that what Jayasekara was saying is right."

On March 1, the general secretary of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association (SLWJA), Poddala Jayantha, was removed from his post as a provincial news editor for a Sinhala language weekly.

An award-winning investigative journalist, Jayantha also was reportedly instructed by his employer, the government-controlled Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited (ANCL), not to go outside during working hours.

"Intimidation tactics by authorities and the government-run press aimed at diminishing the strength of journalists' organisations and their leaders are cowardly and do not honour the principles of freedom of expression and association to which all media in Sri Lanka allegedly prescribe," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

The IFJ stands in solidarity with the FMM, the SLWJA and the Federation of Media Employees' Trade Union (FMETU) as they continue to fight for media freedom and the right to free expression under austere circumstances.

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

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