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Concern over increasing media repression following election

(FMM/IFEX) - 29 January 2010 - The Free Media Movement (FMM), together with the Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association (SLWJA), the Federation of Media Employees' Trade Unions (FMETU), the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF) and the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA), issued a joint statement expressing great concern over the increasing media suppression in the post-election period:

We, five major media organizations in the country, express our deep concern over the increasing media suppression on the heels of the presidential election. The election was marred by various threats to non-state media and the misuse of state-controlled public media. In the post-election period, the media situation is becoming more serious, as clearly seen by the developments over the last few days.

We five media organizations condemn these suppressive measures in the strongest terms and express our unconditional solidarity with media and journalists who are under attack.

Here are the major incidents reported so far:

Lanka enews journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared on the night of 24 January on his way home from his office. There has been no information on his whereabouts. The only answer that the police have given is that they are doing their investigations.

State-controlled Sri Lanka Telecom? blocked http://www.lankaenews.com on election day, making it impossible for Sri Lankan citizens to visit the site. Lanka enews had been providing much-needed space for opposition news and opinions. The editor lodged a complaint with the Election Commissioner (EC), who in response ordered Sri Lanka Telecom to lift the blockade.

Shortly after the final election result was announced by the EC, however, Sri Lanka Telecom re-imposed the ban, this time more strictly. Meanwhile, the editor and staff of Lanka enews continue to receive death threats on their phones. On the night of 28 January, an unknown group surrounded the Lanka enews office, located in Rajagiriaya, Boralla, and stayed there nearly two hours inquiring about the staff. The vehicle the group used had a license plate that read 32-8432.

Furthermore, it has been reported that at least four more websites with critical content have been blocked by the state as well as by privately owned servers in Sri Lanka. They are http://www.lankanewsweb.com , http://www.srilankaguardian.org , http://www.infolanka.com , and http://www.nidahasa.com

On the morning of 28 January, Ravi Abewikrama, a programme producer at Sri Lanka Broadcasting Cooperation (SLBC), was assaulted by SLRC deputy transport manager G.D. Somapala at the office of SLRC Chairman Ariyarathana Atugala. Later Chairman Atugala and Director General Devappriya Abeysinghe threatened programme producers Kanachana Marasinghe, Herburt Kumara Alagiyawanna and Gamini Pushpakumara, using abusive language. These media personnel are being targeted for their leading role in advocating the compliance with the Election Commission's media guidelines by the institution to ensure fair coverage for all sides.

On 28 January, Somawansas Amarasinha, the leader of the major opposition coalition partner People's Liberation Front (JVP), told a press conference that Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa made a call from his mobile and threatened to set fire to a Lanka newspaper, a pro-JVP Sinhala weekly.

Later, it was reported that an unofficial ban on carrying this news item was imposed. Incidentally, none of the TV news bulletins carried the news.

Moreover, it has been reported to our organizations that a number of provincial correspondents have been threatened and intimidated over the issue of election reporting.

These incidents show clearly that media suppression is on the increase in the post-election period. These developments will hamper any informed discussion on the aftermath of the presidential election and the malpractices reported. The result will be the violation of people's right to information. This in turn will seriously limit people's ability to make informed judgments on political developments.

We would like to reiterate that in light of the parliamentary elections due in a few months' time, it is all the more necessary to re-establish our people's right to information without delay by making the media environment free.

In this context, considering that press freedom is an expression of the people's right to information and freedom of speech, we, the five media organizations in Sri Lanka, earnestly urge all democratic forces in the country, diplomatic corps in Sri Lanka, the United Nations, international human rights bodies, press freedom groups and journalists' safety organizations to use their good offices to ensure that the government of Sri Lanka stop the media suppression and create a free and democratic post-election environment.

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