Aid and media groups worried about Sri Lanka restrictions

By Ecumenical News International
April 26, 2007

Media and aid groups have expressed grave concern at increasing restriction of their operations in Sri Lanka and have noted that even diplomats monitoring human rights on the divided island are facing government pressure - writes Anto Akkara.

"Undemocratic government pressure on media is unacceptable," the National Media Council, which has churches as members, said in a recent statement. This followed the reported intimidation of the editor of the indigenous Daily Mirror newspaper by Sri Lankan defence secretary Gothabaya Rajapakse for exposing widespread human rights violations in the troubled east of the country.

The council statement came a day after the defence secretary, who is the brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, threatened to expel foreign diplomats who meddle in the "internal affairs" of Sri Lanka. The warning came after a European diplomat met harassed Champika Liyanarachchi, editor of an English-language daily newspaper.

"We deplore the threats levelled against the editor of the [Sri Lanka] Daily Mirror and [its] staff regarding their reportage of the human tragedy that has been unfolding in the east," noted the media council to which Roman Catholic and Protestant churches belong.

The statement issued by the council's executive director Jehan Perera - a Catholic - urged the government "to follow a code of conduct that accepts the fundamental principles of democratic governance including respect for the freedom of the media".

"If you are not with us, you are against us. This is the attitude of several government officials and [nationalist] political parties here," Rohan Edrisinha, an Anglican and director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, told Ecumenical News International from Colombo.

The former chairperson of the Justice and Peace Commission of the National Christian Council of Sri Lanka, Edrisinha said NGOs that participated in a recently concluded UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva had been described as "traitors" by nationalist groups.

"They say we are helping the terrorists and sabotaging the government fight against terrorists," through raising concerns about human rights issues, said Edrisinha.

[With grateful acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches]

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