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IFJ backs Sri Lankan journalists' protests against suppression

(IFJ/IFEX) - February 8, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) extends its solidarity to Sri Lanka's five main organisations of journalists as they begin a campaign of protests to draw attention to the new wave of media suppression since the country's presidential election on January 26.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), the Federation of Media Employees' Trade Unions (FMETU) and the Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association (SLWJA) - all IFJ affiliates - are participating in a public rally in Colombo scheduled for noon today. Also involved are the Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum and the Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance.

Issues to be raised at the rally include the disappearance of freelance cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda on January 24, the detention of Lanka editor Chandana Sirimalwatte, ostensibly for terrorism offences, on January 30, and the victimisation of several employees of government-owned media institutions.

"The IFJ is very concerned at the obvious intent of Sri Lankan authorities to clamp down on journalists and media organisations that may have taken a critical attitude toward the administration of President Mahinda Rajapakse, recently re-elected to a new term," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

The IFJ is deeply worried about Eknaligoda, whose disappearance was followed on the day of the election by the blocking of the Lanka-e-News website for which he was a contributor. Sri Lanka's Elections Commissioner ordered the ban lifted, but it was reimposed soon afterwards.

Sirimalwatte's detention, similarly, followed the sealing of the Lanka newspaper's offices. Though the closure was lifted on a magistrate's order, the paper's editor continues to be detained without charge.

State-owned media institutions Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Ltd (the Lake House group) and the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) have also witnessed significant internal turmoil since the election. In both, journalists who insisted on adhering to the media code of conduct set by the Commissioner for Elections have been verbally and physically abused.

A senior office-holder of the SLRC workers' union has received a notice of termination of services, 17 have been prohibited from entering the premises, and three have been sent on compulsory leave. Another 13 staff have received letters demanding they explain their conduct.

There are also reports that security agencies intend to summon several journalists for interrogation regarding an alleged assassination plot against the President by his main opponent in the recent election.

"We call upon authorities in Sri Lanka and in particular on President Rajapakse to call off the witch-hunt and to approach the post-election scenario with national reconciliation as the uppermost priority, including in regard to freedom of the media and the right to free speech," White said.

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