IFEX members call on SL Government to stop the war on journalists

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Thirty world media organisations write to President Rajapakse
Thursday, June 4th, 2009

3 June 2009
(IFJ/IFEX) - Free expression advocates from around the world gathered this
week in Oslo, Norway, at the International Freedom of Exchange (IFEX) General Meeting. Thirty IFEX members
signed on to the following letter to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, calling on him to "stop the war on journalists":

Mr Mahinda Rajapaksa
President
Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka
c/o Office of the President
Temple Trees
150, Galle Road
Colombo 3, SRI LANKA
E-mail: secretary@presidentsoffice.lk

2 June 2009
Dear President Mahinda Rajapaksa,
RE: Stop the War on Journalists in Sri Lanka
The international press freedom and human rights community is extremely
concerned that the lives of journalists and media workers are directly
threatened by public statements by Sri Lankan Government officers and
authorities accusing independent journalists and media workers of
association with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

The IFJ and other international organisations draw your attention to the
abduction and brutal bashing on June 1 of senior journalist and unionist
Poddala Jayantha, who was named by government members just days before the
assault as an anti-government campaigner who had tarnished the reputation
of your government.

Mr Jayantha was severely beaten with metal and wooden poles by six
assailants. His hands were crushed with a heavy wooden block, as the
attackers told him they would prevent him from continuing his work as a
professional journalist.

We respectfully request that, as President of the Socialist Democratic
Republic of Sri Lanka, you instruct all members and officers of your
government to desist immediately from making public statements that risk
inciting acts of violence against journalists and media workers.

We request that the Government of Sri Lanka fulfill its obligations as a
signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(ICCPR) to uphold and respect the right to freedom of expression for all
people, including journalists, as stipulated under Article 19, and to
refrain from actions that endanger journalists' lives.

We request that the Government of Sri Lanka abide by the Geneva Conventions
of 12 August 1949 and the 1997 Additional Protocol on the Protection of
Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts (Protocol II) to ensure the
protection of journalists as civilians. Article 13 of Protocol II states:
"The civilian population as such, as well as individual civilians, shall
not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence, the primary
purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population, are
prohibited."

We request that the Government of Sri Lanka enforce United Nations Security
Council Resolution 1738 to Protect Journalists Reporting in War Zones and
Crisis Areas, adopted by the Security Council in 2006. The resolution
stipulates: ". . . that all parties to an armed conflict comply fully with
the obligations applicable to them under international law related to the
protection of civilians in armed conflict, including journalists, media
professionals and associated personnel."

You will be aware that Sri Lanka has a reputation as one of the most
dangerous places for journalists in the world. Killings, abduction and
assault of media personnel have been commonplace under your government. In
none of the cases below has anyone been arrested or charged.

- On January 8, Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered in
broad daylight in Colombo.
- On March 11, Dammika Ganganath Dissanayake, media adviser to Sri Lanka's
principal opposition party and a former chairman of the state-owned
broadcast agency, was abducted by armed men.
- On February 26, N. Vidyatharan, editor of Colombo-based Tamil language
newspaper Sudaroli and Jaffna-based Uthayan, was taken in a white van and
believed abducted. It emerged he had been arrested by police.
- On May 22, 2008, Keith Noyahr, a defence reporter for The Nation, was
abducted and violently assaulted.

We are extremely concerned by the failure of authorities in Sri Lanka to
conduct inquiries and arrest and charge those responsible for these
attacks.

We are equally alarmed that senior members of your government and security
personnel continue to make inflammatory comments condemning journalists as
traitors. The government, in our view, is therefore implicitly responsible
for inciting violence against journalists and media institutions.

We strongly urge that you direct members of your government and all
personnel under your authority to desist from inciting hatred and to be
mindful of their responsibilities under international and national law to
protect all citizens, including journalists and media workers.

We request that you recognise the fundamental role of freedom of expression
in supporting democratic processes, and that you actively permit the free
expression of diverse opinions and ideas, even where such expression
displeases the government.

We call on you to act immediately to direct the Sri Lankan Police to
investigate seriously all attacks and threats against journalists and to
follow due process in bringing perpetrators to account.

We respectfully ask that as the President of Sri Lanka, you acknowledge and
act on the concerns expressed here by international and local organisations
dedicated to defending a free media, free expression and the human rights
of all peoples.

Yours Respectfully,

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ)
Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE)
Cartoonists Rights Network International (CRNI)
Centre algérien de défense de la liberté de la presse (CALP)
Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations (CJES)
Centro Nacional de Comunicación Social (CENCOS)
Centro de Periodismo y Etica Publica (CEPET)
Center for Media Studies and Peace Building (CEMESP)
Comité por la Libre Expresión (C-Libre)
Foro de Periodismo Argentino, (FOPEA)
Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI)
Globe International
Institute for Reporters' Freedom and Safety (IRFS)
Independent Journalism Center (IJC), Moldova
Instituto Prensa y Sociedad (IPYS)
Journaliste en danger (JED)
Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA)
Media Institute
Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA)
Media Watch
Mizzima News
National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Observatorio Latinoamericano para la Libertad de Expresión (OLA)
Observatory for the Freedom of Press, Publishing and Creation in Tunisia
(OLPEC)
Pacific Freedom Forum (PFF)
Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)
Public Association "Journalists"
Sindicato de Periodistas del Paraguay (SPP)
South East European Network for Professionalization of Media (SEENPM)
Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
World Association of Newspapers (WAN)
Source: International Federation of Journalists

http://www.ifex.org/sri_lanka/2009/06/03/ja_gm/