A week after the launch of our briefing on media freedom the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice has launched an action plan designed to combat the threats to and restrictions on the media in Sri Lanka.
The action plan could not be more timely after three recent developments threw the issue into sharp focus:
- Last Friday (29 July) a senior Sri Lankan journalist, Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, the editor of the Jaffna-based ‘Uthayan’ newspaper was assaulted and beaten with iron bars by a gang of unidentified youths. He is still in a critical condition in hospital.
- Last Thursday (28 July) the body of the human rights defender Pattani Razeek was discovered. He had been missing for over 500 days. UN records show 5,653 outstanding “enforced and involuntary disappearances” in Sri Lanka.
- The previous Thursday (21 July) Radio Netherlands reported upon how their journalists were subjected to a “white van abduction” during their time in Sri Lanka. The white van has an especially ominous significance in Sri Lanka, as a common means of state sponsored intimidation. There have been 1,700 “white van abductions” in the last two years.
Launching the action plan Edward Mortimer, chair of the Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice, said, “34 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2004, and not one killer has been brought to justice. Our action plan provides a clear strategy for combating this impunity and the systemic intimidation and abuse of journalists in Sri Lanka, and for removing Sri Lanka’s climate of fear.”
“Many of our suggestions require the Sri Lankan government to act very differently. But, since the government clearly revels in the fact it has successfully cowed most of Sri Lanka’s civil society and media into silence, this will not happen without strong pressure from the international community.”
“Therefore, in response to the Government of Sri Lanka’s intransigence, the action plan concentrates on things that independent media, foreign governments, and international media organisations can do to improve the situation.”
“This action plan was created with the input of Sri Lankan, and some non Sri Lankan, media workers, journalists and experts; some of them in Sri Lanka, some in exile. It represents a road map to a freer and more effective Sri Lankan media. Media professionals risk their lives on a daily basis to get the truth out of Sri Lanka It is time to give them a helping hand.”