Briefing Document: Sri Lanka: Freedom of Expression issues – November 2011

Freedom of the press remains one of the major issues in post warSri Lanka. During the final phase of the war (2006 – 2009) between the government ofSri Lanka(GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) themediainSri Lankawas censored and suppressed to an unprecedented level. Although killings and abductions ofmediapersonal have not been reported in the past year there has been no improvement inmediafreedom.  Assaults, threats and other acts of intimidation againstmediainstitutions andmediapersonnel continue, often forcing themediato exercise self-censorship.  Ownership and control of themediais in the hands of the state or in the hands of private owners who are controlled to a large extent by the state through granting or denying advertising and other privileges as well as through intimidation.

 Impunity remains one of the major issues related to press freedom inSri Lanka.

 Since 2OO6 nearly 40 mediaworkers and journalists have been killed. (Free Media Movement publication – Freedom of expression Killings of Sri Lanka 1981- 2010) 5media institutions have been subject to arson attacks Dozens of journalists were assaulted. Up to date none of these crimes have been investigated to a completion. In high profile cases like the killing of ‘Sunday Leader’editor Lasantha Wickrematunge (January 2009) and Tamil neteditor Daramrathman Sivaram (April 2005), the GoSL entrusted a number of police teams with the investigations with promises of bringing the culprits to book. The arson attacks on MTV network (January 2009) and Lanka e Newsoffice (Feb 2011) were attributed to the opposition and underworld by the GoSL but no investigation has been carried out.  The case of abduction and torture of journalist and trade unionist Poddala Jayantha (June 2009) has been closed by the police without any break through.

Media persons still do not have openand free access to re-settled IDPs and former war zone. TheNorthern provinceremains highly militarized, and members of the Tamilmediaand journalists working in those areas face a much more difficult situation. 

 Reported recent incidents of press freedom violations:

 November 2011: Minister threatened journalist to find coffins

Speaking at a public meeting on 20th Nov 2011 Minister Mervyn Silva warned journalists, whom he claimed were insulting the president and other important persons, to book coffins for themselves immediately.  He said that he was finding the addresses of such journalists. Minster Silva is notorious for taking law on to his hands  and he has led number of attacks againstmedia and journalists on number of occasions.    


  1. November 2011: Internet censorship – web sites banned

GoSL internet service provider Telecom, which covered more than 80% internet connections in the country,  blocked at least six websites without any prior warning. Secretary to Media Ministry admitted websites have been blocked as they violate laws but did not specified  which news item of what date violated which law, and no charges have been filed for violating of any such laws. The selection of sites to block was arbitrary and the news web site of the opposition United National Party (UNP) was among them. Although some blocked sites have immediately complied with the registration requirements as ordered by the GoSL registration process has not yet finalised.


  • The web sites blocked by the GoSL used to publish critical news and views to various extents. Pro government and news websites operate feely without any hindrance.


  • One of the sites blocked is  provides a clear example for this arbitrary censorship.  The web site has been operating from 29th October 2010. The Web Site has between 25,000 to 30,000 visits per day according to Google Analytics the website has applied for registration and accreditation in July 2011. But no response was received.


  • If this registration rule is going to be applied to all News Websites which have aSri Lankafocus hundreds of Tamil news sites operating from outside the country will not be accessible inSri Lanka.


  1. November, 2011:Death threat

Editor Sunday Leader Federica Janz was threatened with death over her evidence against former army commander in the ‘ White flag’ case in a hand written letter send to her.,41321.html


  1. 08 November, 2011: Web site banned by court order

The Nugegoda court Magistrate issued a directive to the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Chairman ordering him  to block the website critical towards GoSL, the  until further notice.



  1. 5.       November 2011: Sri Lankan delegation’s misleading of the UN Committee Against Torture through falsehoods against serious cases involving media personnel

Former Attorney General and presently legal senior adviser to the Cabinet Mr. Mohan Peiris told members of the UN Committee against Torture on 9th Nov 2011 (1.43.48 @ ) that the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) hasinformation that disappeared journalist Eknaligoda has taken asylum in a foreign country and the GoSL is reasonably certain of thisinformation. However, the Government had failed to provide thisinformation to the Police, National Human Rights Commission which are investigating the case and neither has been thisinformation submitted to the High Court orMagistrate Court, where there are ongoing cases re. the disappearance of Ekneligoda. The Government has todate not providedinformation about this to Ekneligoda’s wife who has been appealing to the government on numerous occasions to provide updates on the progress of the investigations. In written response to list of issues raised by the CAT, the government claimed that the investigation to serious assault on journalist Poddala Jayantha in 2009 was stopped based on statement given by Mr. Jayantha (page 44, response to question 27 section (b). Mr. Jayantha had denied that he ever made a statement requesting investigations to be stopped and demands that investigations continue and pledges his full cooperation towards investigations. The Sri Lankan government also claimed that senior journalist J. S. Tissainayagam had expressed remorse for what he did and that his complicity in what he did was confirmed by a letter to the President.

( ) Tissainayagam had subsequently denied this and published the alleged letter which clearly shows that he had not expressed remorse for any crime. (


  1. October 2011; Assault of students

TwoJaffnaUniversitystudents, S. Thavapalasingam and R. Kavidas were assaulted by unidentified assailants. It is widely believed that they we assaulted because of their critical opinions regarding  GoSL behavior towards Tamil people. No investigation has been carried on both assaults.


  1. October, 2011:Death threat to media owner

President, TNL TV/Radio net work Sahan Wickremasinghe was threatened with death over his remark on the links between ‘black’ money and politics.



  1. September 2011: Use of state media attack journalists and HRDs

Media owned, controlled and sympathetic to the government is being constantly used to attack HRDs and independent journalists. In September 2011, a number of print and web mediamade totally false allegations against the former Convener of the Free Media Movement and well know mediaactivist and HRD Sunanda Deshapriya, falsely claiming that the Maldivian President had asked Mr. Deshapriya not to act against the country during a panel discussion organized by the Government of Sri Lanka in Geneva. 

In September – October 2011, “Rivira” a Sinhalese language weekend paper sympathetic to the Government ran a series of articles against the NGO “Companions on a Journey” which promotes equal rights for people with all sexual orientations, projecting homosexuality and homosexuals as despicable and saying that “we are repelled at not only gay relationships, but even at talking to a gay person” and saying “Yes, we loath homosexuals. We cannot tolerate those Thuppahi (a derogatory Sinhalese term) communities. We despise such despicable sexual habits. We stand strongly against them”


  1. July 2011: Threat to Chairman, media institute

On 19 July 2011 President Mahinda Rajapaksha had called the chairman of The Sunday Leader, Lal Wickrematunge and yelled at him. The President threatened him saying, “You are writing lies, outrageous lies! You can attack me politically, but if you attack me personally, I will know how to attack you personally too.


  1. July 2011: Assault of Jaffna editor

Mr. Gnanasundaram Kuganathan, News editorof Jaffnabased Tamil dailyUthayan was assaulted mercilessly on 29th July 2011 on his way to home after work. His survival was a miracle according to him as the attackers intended to kill him. He said that he can identify the attackers. The President of GoSL immediately ordered Inspector General of Police to submit an investigation report with which the IGP duly complied.  The report has not been made public so far. Instead GoSL announced that the assault was a personal vendetta and arrests have been made.  So far no case has been filed. Mr. Kuganathan, who literally lived in the news paperoffice to save his life during the war time, has now left he country for the fear of more attacks.




Major drawbacks on full implementation of people’s right toinformation/freedom of expression rights follows:


  • There is no Right to Information. GoSL has stated that there is no need for a Right to Information Act inSri Lanka.


  • There is no public servicesmedia. The governing party keeps a iron grip on state owned TV networks, Radio networks and print and webmedia. Media monitoring reports have systematically  shown that the State controlledmediais the most biased massmediainSri Lanka.


  • There is no openand transparent mechanism for obtaining TV/Radio licenses and this situation has led to cronyism in electronicmedialandscape.  


  • Private sectormediaowners do not respect the trade union rights ofmediaemployees.


  • Journalists inSri Lankaare the most poorly paid, and there is no recognized professional training available at the university level.


Measures needed to improve the press freedom situation in Sri Lanka:


Short term:

  • End impunity; Investigate killings and attacks on journalists/mediaworkers
  • End intimidations and harassment on dissenting voices in themediafield.
  • Remove all censorship mechanisms including Press Council Act
  • Allowmediaaccess to whole country including resettled areas


Long term:

  • Legalize the Right to Information Act (which was approved by the cabinet in December 2004)
  • Transform Statemediain to public servicesmedia
  • Recognize journalists andmediaworkers right to organize in Trade Unions
  • Initiate discussions withmediaorganizations in order to implementmedialaw reform programme set out in the Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social           Responsibility (1998 and 2008)
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: