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Sri Lanka muzzles NGOs and bans media-related activities

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and Free Media Movement (FMM) in condemning the decision of the Sri Lankan government to ban civil society non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from having any dealings with the media, including organising and conducting legitimate and necessary media-training activities.

On July 7 2014, the National Secretariat for NGOs, under the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, issued a circular to all NGOs preventing them from "conducting press conferences, workshops, journalism training and dissemination of press releases". The authority claimed such activities are beyond the mandate of NGOs.

To date in 2014, three training workshops for Tamil journalists have had to be abandoned:

* On June 7, a three-day workshop for Tamil-language media in north-eastern Sri Lanka was cancelled after outsiders threatened to disrupt it. The workshop was to provide training on investigative reporting. It was organised in Gampaha by the Sri Lanka office of Transparency International - a Berlin-headquartered, highly-respected global NGO that monitors and publicises corporate and political corruption in international development.

* In May the same workshop, being conducted in Giritale in the Polnnaruwa district of North Central Province, had to be abandoned due to intimidation by the military.

* In January 2014, a two-day training workshop for Tamil journalists was abandoned after a group of Buddhist monks disrupted proceedings. The workshop was organised by the Search for Common Ground - a Washington DC-headquartered, international non-profit organisation operating in 30 countries whose mission is to transform the way the world deals with conflict away from adversarial approaches toward cooperative solutions.

The SLWJA said: "The latest directive is ludicrous at its best and dangerous at its worst. It is a clear attack on freedom of expression enshrined in the country's constitution and highlights Sri Lanka's slide towards authoritarianism. Arbitrariness with which it was announced vindicates the government's contempt towards the fundamental rights of the citizens. A free discourse among all stakeholders is imperative for a democratic and healthy society. The government's latest directive is a sinister move that is aimed at silencing some of those voices."

The FMM said: "This is a gross violation of human rights, and the Sri Lankan constitution as well as its international obligations of the Sri Lankan government."

The IFJ, the SLWJA and the FMM call upon the government to withdraw the directive.

The IFJ said: "The decision undermines the important role NGOs and the media play in the development of a nation. To muzzle NGOs and civil society organisations, and bar them from having legitimate dialogue and engagements with media outlets and journalists, is clearly contrary to freedom of expression.

This decision will hamper the development of Sri Lanka's media by discouraging dialogues and the development of journalism skills. We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to immediately refrain from activities that undermine the fundamental human rights, and to allow civil society to engage and work with the media as would be expected and encouraged in a democracy."

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
What other IFEX members are saying
  • Sri Lanka moves to silence NGOs, press groups

    For all its efforts to silence its critics, the government, with its new move to stifle NGOs, may have instead moved one more step toward irrelevance.

  • Sri Lanka's Free Media Movement speaks out against government

    In a high-risk move, the Free Media Movement in Sri Lanka released a statement condemning the government's ban on non-governmental organizations (NGOs) holding press conferences and issuing press releases. CPJ blogged about the government's move last week.

Case history


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