Tag Archives: censorship

Sri Lanka: Eradication of anti Muslim violence needs deeds instead of words

Networking for Rights cautiously welcomes  President Mahinda Rajapakse’s   recent statement  that his government will not tolerate racism and religious intolerance.

According to a report in The Hindu newspaper of March 31 this statement had been made by him  at a religious gathering in Werehena.  He had added   “This is a democratic country with non-Buddhists having equal rights and freedoms. While we safeguard the rights of Buddhists, it is the responsibility of the Buddhists to be exemplary and protect the rights of others.” Continue reading

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Sri Lanka: State security forces obstruct peaceful assembly in Jaffna ; students and journalists assaulted and arrested

 

Press release/ 31 Nov 2012

  NfR Sri Lanka, a net work of journalists and human rights defenders, dismayed and shocked that once again the Government of Sri Lanka has unleashed state terror on students and journalists in Jaffna in flagrant violation of peoples right to peaceful assembly, an universal right enjoyed by people in the democratic world. This is an assault on freedom of expression rights as well.

 This brutal assault took place on 27th Nov 2012 in Jaffna when University students led remembrance was being held. Number of students was injured as a result, editor of the Jaffna based best selling news paper Uthayan was manhandled by the military and photographers were forced to delete the pictures of military and police brutality. Among the journalists assaulted are staff of another Jaffna based newspaper, Valampuri and students of the journalism training centre, Jaffna. Continue reading

Sri Lanka: Open and blatant violation of media independence by the President himself

Press release/ 29 Nov 2012/

NfR is shocked and dismayed to hear that the chairperson of the state controlled TV station, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLRC) has been appointed as the official media spokesperson of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

The Official web site of the GoSL carried a news item confirming the appointment; ‘Mohan Samaranayake has been appointed as the new Media Spokesman to the President in addition to his post as the Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.’ the President’s Media Division (PMD) said.

This is an act heard of even in countries where an open dictatorship prevails. Such despotic rulers at least try to give a semblance of respect for the rights of the people to the freedom of expression as a tactic to deceive their subjects. Continue reading

Sri Lanka:Military barred journalists visiting the IDP relocation camp in Seeniyamottai and threatened to mind her own business

Press release 07.10.12

NFR wishes to draw attention to the number of feature articles published by print and web media on the situation of the 110 families who lived in the Menik Farm IDP camp and threats faced by the journalists while covering the relocation.

The articles provides  a cogent account of the current situation where the State appears to show the world that it is going ahead with the resettlement of the IDPs of the region expeditiously, but is not the case. This report exposes the fact that the government and the military are carrying out a resettlement program where people are being taken, not to their original homes, but to lands that have no infrastructure; nor are the people being equipped with the basic necessities of life. It is troubling to note that these displaced people are taken to uninhabited areas while the military continues to occupy their homes. Continue reading

Sri Lanka: Journalist assaulted, Photographer threatened and Editor sacked

Press release/ 30 Sep 2012

Mr. Prasad Purnimal, a provincial newspaper correspondent of the Puttalam District has been hospitalized after he was assaulted by security guards of the government hospital at Halawatha/Chilaw. 

Issuing a statement on 29th September, the Free Media Movement (FMM), the local press freedom watch dog said that the assault on Purnimal  is one in the indications of  the on-going anti-media attitude of the hospital security staff.   This assault had taken place while a government Deputy Minister and Army Major of Halawatha (Chilaw) were there. The FMM’s statement says that even though several days have passed after the assault, the police have, as usual, not taken any steps to investigate the incident and no one has been arrested so far. Continue reading

Sri Lanka: Internet freedom further restricted by imposing registration fees

Press release/ 20 July 2012

 The NfR condemns the recent actions taken by the Ministry of Mass Media and Communication in Sri Lanka to curtail the dissemination of ideas and information through websites, imposing registration fees, including the blocking of certain websites, raids on the office of two websites and the arrest and detention of staff at the office.

 In November 2011, the government blocked 5 websites and asked all those websites carrying any content relating to Sri Lanka or the people of Sri Lanka, uploading from Sri Lanka or abroad to apply for ‘accreditation’. Following this, many websites did in fact seek and obtain the said ‘accreditation’.

 On 11 July 2012, Mr. Keheliya Rambukwella the Minister of Mass Media and Communication, proposed to the Cabinet that the Press Council law be amended to make provision for the registration of newscasting websites. The Press Council (Act No. 5 of 1973) was reintroduced to Sri Lanka in June 2009, in the face of many protests from media freedom groups in Sri Lanka and abroad, who pointed to the fact that nothing about its arbitrary nature had changed in the years when it had been held in abeyance.

 According to the Cabinet press release that followed, it was announced that a first off registration fee of Rs. 100,000 would be levied from each website, and that there would be a 50,000 rupee annual fee on all news casting websites including those that had registered in January 2012. There is no registration fee for any  print media in Sri Lanka.

 The Cabinet press release stated that the main objective of this amendment was ‘to ensure that the contents of the websites do no harm to defenseless individuals’. Minister Rambukwella went on record saying that this step was necessary ‘ to maintain dignity and decorum in the media’.

 It is clear that without a clear definition of what constitutes a ‘news casting’ website this amendment and the regulation of websites imposed by the process of paid registration could become a tool for silencing democratic dissent and restricting the freedom of opinion and expression which is guaranteed by the Sri Lankan constitution as well as by international human rights law. In an environment in which repression of media freedom, intimidation and attacks of journalists and media activists and ‘hate’ campaigns against media freedom organizations have resulted in an exodus of journalists and media persons from the country, this new step can only be seen as a further erosion of media freedom and the right to democratic dissent in Sri Lanka.

 NfR strongly opposes all attempts to suppress people’s right to opinion, information and expression in order to control abuse of the internet and reiterate that the Sri Lankan Penal Code contains sufficient laws to control defamation if so required.

  NfR maintains its position that working with the media community to develop tools and mechanisms of self-regulation guided by universal principles of media ethics remains the only acceptable path to prevent any abuse of media freedom.

 

 

Sri Lanka: Offices of two websites raided by state intelligence apparatus; 7 Journalists and two staff arrested; 6 computers confiscated

NfR Alert: 29 June 2012

This morning around 11.45 am around 25 offices from police intelligence arms, namely Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and Colombo Crime Division (CCD) raided two popular tri lingual news and opinion web site operated form Colombo. They are http://english.srilankamirror.com/  and http://www.srilankaxnews.com/ . Both Sri Lanka Mirror and SriLankaXnews are read by tens of thousands of readers daily.

 Sri Lanka Mirror is registered with the information ministry and SriLankaXnews is the official web site of the opposition United National Party.  Both of offices  we located at 71, Ferry road, Athul Kotte, Kotte, a suburb of Colombo.

 Police has obtained a court order to search the premises of both web sites.   But the acting police spokesperson Sanjeewa Madawatta has told Yukthiya web site that he dose not have any knowledge of the raid and reasons for it.

 Police has surrounded the residence of Mr. Ruwan Ferdinanz, current editorial director of the Sri Lanka X news and former editorial director of the Sri Lanka Mirror and has demanded that he surrender his laptop computer to them. By the time he has left the residence.

 The journalists arrested are being questioned at the notorious 4th floor of the Criminal Investigation Department. They are:

Mr.Kalum Shwantha Rodrigu – Editor SriLanka Mirror
Ms.Shiwanthi Manawadu 0 Weekend editor, SriLanka Mirror
Ms.Himashi Karunarathan, Features editor, SriLanka Mirror
Ms.Tarindu Rajapaksha, Feature writer, SriLanka Mirror
Mr.Ajith senavirathna, Photo journalist, SriLanka Mirror
Mr.Zidick Kariyappa, editor, Tamil section, Sri Lanka X news
Mr.J. Subash Jayawardana, Journalist , Feature writer, Sri Lanka X news
———-

Mr.Asanaka Nimathna, Managing editor Sri Lanka Mirror  
Ms. R.W. Premawathi, Offcie assistance, Sri Lanka Mirror   
 

Mr. Sunil Jayasekara, secretary of the Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka told NfR Sri Lanka that this raid is another attempt to intimidate non state media in Sri Lanka and joint efforts need to face mounting intimidations and censorship.  He calls on all democratic forces in the country to rise against  this dangerous trend of media suppression.

Mr. Ruwan Ferdinanz told NfR Sri Lanka that at a time that three Provincial Councils dissolved and elections are to be held in two months time closure of opposition and independent media outlets and threats an intimidation directed against journalists and media should be considered as a great threat to rule of law and democracy in Sri Lanka.

 

Sri Lanka: Web censorship reaches new level: Five Tamil language web sites blocked

Press release 27.06 2012

Sri Lanka:  Web censorship reaches new level:  Five Tamil language web sites blocked

 NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders condemns the blocking of five tamil language news websites which report on Sri Lanka. In a situation where print and electronic media is under severe self censorship,  internet based media plays a critical role in providing information on Sri Lanka.

NfR sources in Sri Lanka have confirmed that five websites, namely http://www.tamilwin.com, http://www.athirvu.com, http://www.saritham.com
http://www.ponguthamil.com, http://www.pathivu.com    are  not accessible through any of the  Sri Lankan  internet service  providers.   People in Sri Lanka can  now visit those sites only trough proxy servers.

 NfR believes that open discussion and freedom of information on issues that affect citizens is pivotal in the  democratisation of  post war Sri Lanka.  NfR views this unhealthy development as a continuation of media censorship imposed by the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL).   Although the GoSL has been accusing internet based media for unethical reporting the very same GoSL  controlled media is well known for publishing politically motivated cooked up stories and many media monitoring reports has shown that state controlled media is the  heavily  biased in covering politically important issues.

 In  that  context  NfR  views  this  ban  as  yet  another  politically  motivated  anti-democratic step towards creating a mind controlled society in Sri Lanka.  

 TamilNet, a popular news and opinion site on Tamil issues was the first site blocked by the GoSL.  On June 19, 2007, on the orders of the GoSL all Internet Service Providers  in Sri Lanka blocked the access to the TamilNet website. Since then GoSL has blocked dozens of news and opinion web sites reporting on Sri Lanka. Today major Sinhala language news and opinion websites operating from outside Sri Lanka, such as   http://lankaenews.com, http://www.lankanewsweb.com, http://www.srilankaguardian.org/   remain blocked.

 In November 2011 the GoSL proclaimed that any website dealing with Sri Lankan affairs must register with the government or face legal action. At the same time number of websites was blocked by the GoSL. In May 2012 Supreme Court rejected the fundamental rights case filed against blocking of websites by   press freedom watch dog, the Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka saying that there no basis to grant leave to proceed.

 NfR calls on all media and democratic organizations to take note of this continuing media censorship in Sri Lanka and support and strengthen alternative Sri Lankan media,  in defense of basic democratic rights of all people in Sri Lanka. At the same time NfR calls on internet based media in Sri Lanka  to be ethical,  balanced and fair  in their reporting.

 

Sri Lanka: Threats to Dr. Nirmal R. Devasiri of FUTA is an another instance of suppression of dissent

Press release/ 25 June 2012

NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders expresses its serious concern over the recent threats and intimidations directed at Dr. Nirmal Ranjith Devasiri, the President of the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations (FUTA) for his trade union activities.  FUTA has been campaigning for better remuneration for University teachers and education facilities in the universities.  FUTA has also campaigned against the privatisation of the university education. In addition the FUTA has announced a strike by its members demanding the implementation of the agreed salary structure from 4th July 2012.

 NfR Sri Lanka views this intimidation of members of the academic community in the country, with alarm and condemns unconditionally those who are behind such dastardly acts. This is clearly a violation of the universally accepted democratic right to dissent, freedom of expression and the right to association.

 According to FUTA  ‘a group of men claiming to be from the Ministry of Defence have been behaving suspiciously within the neighbourhood of the Secretary of Arts Faculty Teachers’ Associations (FUTA), Dr. Nirmal Ranjith on June 19, 2012. They have questioned the neighbours regarding Dr. Devasiri’s movements and details regarding his family.’ On June 21, Dr. Devasiri has lodged a complaint in this regard at the Maharagama Police Station. He has also received a number of telephone calls threatening him and his family to stop continuing to work as the President of FUTA. 

 The Sri Lanka Police is notorious for its lethargy in investigating killings, threats and intimidations of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and academics. Friday Forum, a concerned group of eminent persons and academics in Sri Lanka has stated that they have requested for a meeting with Inspector General of Police to seek his support towards arresting the culture of impunity, and to request him to take measures to prevent acts of police brutality and the violent repression of public protests. This request has received only ‘an unhelpful bureaucratic response’.  In a show of his arrogance and bureaucratic attitude towards civil society, the IGP has not considered it necessary for him to meet the Friday Forum.  Regrettably, the IGP has not been able to show any independence whatsoever towards marauding politicians or their henchmen.

 While condemning the biased attitude of police towards politically motivated crimes in the country, NfR requests that government to initiate an impartial inquiry into this incident and bring the culprits to book without delay.  It is only by doing so that the Government of Sri Lanka can absolve itself from being blamed as being involved in the harassment and intimidation of Dr. Devasiri directly and   the Federation of University Teachers’ Associations, indirectly.

 

Sri Lanka: Editor sacked; NfR expresses shock and dismay

(see comment below) 

NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders express its shock and dismay on the sacking of Ceylon Today editor Mr. Lalith Alahakoon. Mr. Alahakoon is a senior journalist who has edited number of English dailies in Sri Lanka. He was sacked form the Ceylon Today newspaper on 14 June 2012.

 Ceylon Today’, published by Ceylon Newspapers owned by opposition parliamentarian and business tycoon Tiran Alles. He represents the Democratic National Alliance, which is led by defected presidential candidate and former army commander General Sarath Fonseka.

 According to reliable reports Mr. Alahakoon has been sacked for not obeying unethical orders form the management.  According to media reports the reason given for Mr. Alahakoon’s removal is that he had refused to publish certain politically biased news stories, published by the sister newspaper ‘Mawbima’, in the English newspaper.

Editorial freedom is an accepted media practice in ethical journalism. Editors have the right to decide on the content of the newspaper without any interference of the management. To fulfill the people’s right to information on which freedom of expression rests, the management and the editorial of any news media needs clearly define separate roles. The relation ship between the two entities should be at ‘hands length’ so that they are protected from each others’ undue influences. 

In Sri Lanka today not only the repression by the state but also unethical interferences by the owners/ management impose a debilitating effect on freedom of the press.

Removal of Mr. Lalith Alahakoon from the editorship of the Ceylon and sacking him form the Ceylon Today editorial staff is a severe blow to independence journalism in Sri Lanka.  NfR joins hands with all those who oppose this un- democratic and arbitrary action by the management of the Ceylon News Papers.

Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka

Steering committee : Kshama Ranawana ( Canada) Lionel Bopage ( Australia), Nadarasa Sarawanan (Norway), Nadarajah Kuruparan(UK) Padmi Liyanage (Germany), Raveendran Pradeepan (France), Rudhramoorthy Cheran (Canada), Saman Wagaarachchi ( USA), Sunanda Deshapriya ( Switzerland)

Commnet received form Media activist in Sri Lanka

I am an admirer and supporter of your campaign. However, I must make two comments with regard to your Press Release re the apparent sacking of Lalith Alahakoon (who is an old colleague and friend of mine) from Ceylon Today (CT).

 1) Inaccurate information:- 

1.a.) ‘Sacking’:  The details regarding the departure of Lalith and several others from the Ceylon Today are yet unclear. I am not clear whether Lalith was actually sacked or tricked into believing he was being sacked and, therefore, departed. 

1.b.) ‘Editor’ :  Lalith was NOT the ‘Editor’ of the CT newspaper. He was Director – Editorial and a member of the CT Board of Directors. The Editor of CT is Hana Ibrahim, who remains in her post. 

 2) ‘Editorial Freedom’: as a journalist of some 30+ experience, a student of  the mass media and a teacher of journalism, I fail to see the relevance of the concept of ‘Editorial Freedom’ to this particular incident. Indeed I fail to see the relevance of that very abstract concept of Editorial Freedom to the concrete issue of employment of a journalist. At its best, ‘Editorial Freedom’ is a vague concept and, as far as I know, is not something that can be applied in any determinate way to the day-to-day practices of the media industry.  Of course, any attempt to compel an employee (not just a journalist) to break the law or betray confidences or any such unethical activity must be resisted and condemned. But this is very specific and relates to specific laws and ethical values and has nothing to do with the vague concept of ‘editorial freedom’.

 I have the impression that Lalith has fallen victim to unfair and un-ethical (and vicious) personnel management practices by the CT. That they employed trickery and undue pressure to push Lalith out of his influential position in the CT due to differences between him and the CT management in the area of editorial policy seems clear. From my incomplete understanding of the affair, I am not sure what exactly the editorial policy issue was. However, from a ‘rights’ point of view, I, and other locally based activists are endeavouring to obtain details of the unfair labour practices that seem to have been employed by CT in expelling Lalith and colleagues. We will act accordingly. The difference of views on editorial policy cannot be equated with the ‘rights’ of an employment of a journalist. In my own extensive professional experience I have NEVER worked in any newspaper establishment in my whole career in which I have been fully in agreement with the newspaper’s owner’s editorial policies. Indeed, that is why I, too, have been either summarily removed or have voluntarily resigned from some professional positions I have held in my career which began in 1978. Given my understanding of the nature of modern journalism and the media industry, I do NOT expect to see the vague concept of ‘editorial freedom’ applied in any concrete/specific form in any part of the industry or profession. Even if the journalists themselves own and manage a newspaper, editorial policy cannot be “free” but will have to be the subject of a collective or consensual agreement of the owning journalists – even in such a scenario it is obvious that there cannot be any editorial ‘freedom’ practised by either an individual journalist or section of journalists in that establishment.

 Given his extensive professional skills and experience and stature, Lalith’s departure from CT is a big loss to the media industry in SL. I was also dismayed by Lalith’s abrupt departure. I am glad that your campaign has taken up his case and I hope that you will pursue it in accordance with its actual contours.

The statement released by Lalith Alahakoon

Sequence of events relating to editorial crisis at ‘Ceylon Today’ newspaper

By Lalith Allahakkoon
This is the full text of a public statement issued to the media by Lalith Allahakkoon the Editor in Chief and Editorial Director of “Ceylon Today”about recent events that have caused an Editorial crisis in the English newspaper published in Colombo

1. At around 7 p.m. on the night of Wednesday June 13, Executive Director of Ceylon Newspapers Mr. Dushyantha Basnayake summoned me to his office and said there were several issues to be discussed. Firstly, he informed me that the management had decided to terminate the employment of Senior Cartoonist at Ceylon Today Wasantha Siriwardane.

I informed him that while I was satisfied with his performance, if the management was not happy with him and they wished to discontinue him, he should firstly be warned in writing to give him an opportunity to rectify matters.

2. Subsequently Mr. Basnayake informed me that the management had decided to ask me to leave due to several reasons –
(a) My alleged association with Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP –(with whom I informed him I have not even had a conversation in the past year, but even if I was, as a journalist and an editor I do not see how this would constitute a wrongdoing)
(b) that I failed to greet Chairman Tiran Alles at a reception held at the Indian High Commissioner’s residence in Colombo and
(c) I failed to publish the unsubstantiated lead story by the Mawbima saying there would be a presidential election in 2013 and contradicted the story the next day. However on this point I clarified that the Ceylon Today story was related to the provincial council elections and not to the presidential elections. I also informed him that in any case the Mawbima lead story was inaccurate and had no legal basis in my opinion. In my experience, a newspaper cannot publish based on the sensational impact of a story alone, but must adhere to certain ethic codes and accuracy.

3. Mr. Basnayake then informed me that my editorial policy and the management’s editorial policy do not tally. I reminded him that when this newspaper was begun, Chairman Tiran Alles said Ceylon Today would be an independent and non-partisan newspaper – and even told the editorial team that they would not be required to publish stories praising him. However as time progressed, and subsequent to everything that has happened, the impression created is that the Chairman’s intention was to use me and my editorial team to specifically target and attack his political opponents. I informed Mr. Basnayake that as an editor I could not compromise on journalistic ethics and editorial independence as spelled out by the company at the outset of this project. If there was dissatisfaction with my performance, up to June 13, the management had not indicated this to me in writing or in any other way.

4. Mr. Basnayake then informed me that the management wanted me to leave. I requested the termination notice in writing.

5. On the morning of Thursday June 14, members of the Ceylon Today staff informed me that Ms.Hana Ibrahim had summoned an editorial meeting and announced that the management had asked me to leave. She requested the staff to extend their support to her to publish Ceylon Today. She told the editorial staff that they must help her to carry forward my ideas in my absence.

6. A few hours later, Mr. Basnayake summoned a meeting of Ceylon Today Department Heads and informed them that the management had made the decision to terminate me because I was not following the editorial policy line the management wanted. Mr. Basnayake requested the heads of department to lend their support to Ms. Ibrahim. Subsequently Mr. Basnayake held private meetings with senior editors Wilson Gnanadass and Dharisha Bastians to convince them to remain at Ceylon Today, urging them that despite my removal, they should continue to work at the newspaper.

7. On June 14 when I reported to work and made several telephone calls to Mr. Basnayake informing him that since I had not been served with the letter of termination so far, I had been compelled to report to work. He told me repeatedly that the letter would arrive within an hour, 30 minutes etc.

8. Finally Mr. Basnayake asked me to return to my residence and said that he would deliver the letter to my residence.

9. . Following announcements by Ms. Hana Ibrahim and subsequently the management (Mr. Basnayake) that I had been terminated and Ms. Ibrahim would be tasked with overseeing Ceylon Today operations, four senior journalists at the newspaper tendered their resignations to Ms. Ibrahim in protest. They were Deputy Editors Wilson Gnanadass and Dharisha Bastians, and senior journalists Rasika Jayakody and Dinidu De Alwis. They informed Ms. Ibrahim that they disagreed with the management decision to summarily dismiss me for trying to maintain editorial independence that was promised by the management when the newspaper commenced publication.

10 I made several telephone calls to him on June 15, and yet again Mr. Basnayake promised to get back to me in an hour. Since that time, he has ceased to respond to my telephone calls.

11. On Saturday (June 16) I reported to work in order to coordinate the Sunday newspaper. When I entered my office, I found it locked. The security officers subsequently unlocked the door but when I entered and attempted to commence work, I found that my official Computer had been deactivated and I no longer was able to access my machine.
Lalith Allahakkoon
Director / Editor in Chief
Ceylon Today
June 17, 2012