Sri Lanka steps-up threats to journalists and NGOs
In the wake of two powerful documentaries that have been released this year, ‘Silenced Voices’ by Norwegian filmmaker Beate Arnestad, and Channel 4’s ‘Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields : War Crimes Unpunished’, Sri Lanka has increased threats against journalists and activists both in its territory and abroad as well. In a recent wave of smear campaigns, the state-owned Associated Newspapers of Ceylon Limited, better known as Lake House, and the state run Independent Television Network have targeted journalists, branding them as ‘terrorists’ and ‘traitors’. “Lake House, which controls many newspapers and TV stations, is using accusations of terrorism, separatism and collaborating with the LTTE as a weapon to undermine those who defend freedom of information and media freedom,” a release of Reporters without Borders said.
Among others, these targets include Bashana Abeywardane of the JDS, Dharmasiri Lankapeli of the Federation of Media Employees Trade Unions and Sunanda Deshapriya, a journalist and media freedom activist.
Bashana Abeywardane prominently featured in Ms. Arnestad’s documentary and in a minor segment in Channel 4’s latest release.
Likewise, Minister of Public Relations, Mervyn Silva has promised publicly in Kiribathgoda on Friday to break the limbs of journalists and NGO activists who had given evidence on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, accusing them of being traitors.
“Ironically, these hate campaigns have come at a time when UN experts on human rights defenders are calling on governments to take steps to facilitate, rather than deter, civil society’s safe and unimpeded access to the UN,” a joint statement by activists and journalists dated 21st March, forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission, said.
“We observe that such malicious attacks are carefully orchestrated by the authorities with the clear objective of deviating attention elsewhere when the human rights record of the government is being challenged nationally and internationally,” the statement further added.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navi Pillay also warned on Friday that there should be no reprisals on activists after the adoption of the pro-LLRC US resolution at UNHCR.