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IFJ calls for urgent protection for human rights workers, journalists

(IFJ/IFEX) - In an open letter to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, IFJ expresses grave concern over reports of a journalists "blacklist":

His Excellency Mahinda Rajapaksa
President of Sri Lanka
'Temple Trees'
Colombo 3
Sri Lanka
March 16, 2010

Your Excellency,

RE: Urgent Protection for Human Rights Campaigners and Journalists

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) wishes to draw your immediate attention and concern to the circulation of a list of journalists, human rights campaigners and other prominent individuals in Sri Lanka. There is a lack of clarity about the list's origins and purpose, but there are reports it was compiled by state intelligence agencies.

Given the trend of violence, intimidation and threats against members of Sri Lanka's press freedom and human rights communities, the list and its purpose are of significant concern. The IFJ understands the list has been in circulation in Colombo since before the presidential election on January 26.

Under Sri Lanka's national law, state intelligence agencies are directly under your authority. The IFJ therefore respectfully requests Your Excellency to take prompt action to investigate the source of the list, and ensure those named on it are afforded full protection.

A recent report in Lanka News Web reported the list contains an apparent rating system and includes a number of names accompanied by a brief summary of the individuals' professional history. The Lanka News Web report suggests the ranking system pertains to levels of public activity and campaigning around human rights and democracy issues in Sri Lanka. Copies of the list have been obtained by several diplomatic missions in Colombo.

On March 9, the Five Media Organisations jointly expressed concern about an alert from the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) of unofficial reports of the imminent arrest of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) Executive Director Mr J.C. Weliamuna. Mr Weliamuna reportedly is ranked highly on the list. The IFJ understands that Mr Weliamuna and other individuals on the list have written to you directly to seek clarity on this matter.

The IFJ requests that your office publicly explain whether the list is an official document, sanctioned under your authority, or undertake to investigate the matter in full. We seek an assurance that Sri Lankan authorities will not seek to intimidate and deter those named on the list and other independent voices ahead of national elections in April.

The IFJ asks that you use your authority to provide immediate safety and protection measures to all individuals named on the list, and to note that state authorities must be held accountable if any harm comes to these individuals.

The IFJ respectfully reminds you as the leader of a democratic nation of your responsibility and duty to ensure diverse views, independent information and coverage of the upcoming election process are available to the Sri Lankan public. This would considerably strengthen and deepen the process of national reconciliation that you have repeatedly stated as your main priority.

Yours sincerely,

Aidan White

IFJ General Secretary
International Federation of Journalists

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