Local and international media rights groups on Sunday (08) strongly condemned Sri Lankan Foreign Minister’s bid in Tokyo to defend and cover up his regime’s protracted terror campaign on media saying that “nothing happens to those newspapers which are full of the most abusive criticism”.
Aimed at responding to criticism by Washington and top international media rights groups for shutting a pro-opposition website and arresting dozens of media workers in the capital city of Colombo, visiting Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday that such moves are ‘justified’ as ways “to protect privacy and safeguard reputations”.
“These things happen not only in Sri Lanka but in many other countries. It is not something unique, it is not something that is happening only in Sri Lanka, but law enforcement measures… have been found to be necessary,” Minister Peiris has been quoted as saying.
Barely a day after he made these remarks in Tokyo, a notorious white-van was deployed in an abortive attempt to abduct Shantha Wijesooriya, an investigative web journalist attached to srilankaxnews.com during the noon hours in a densely populated Colombo suburb.
The abduction bid came a week after the police sleuths on the instructions of top defence authorities raided the office of srilankaxnews.com, where Wijesooriya is employed.
‘Incompetence or absence of will’
Commenting on the remarks of the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister in Tokyo, Benjamin Ismaïl, Head of Asia-Pacific Desk, Reporters Without Borders said that “the events of the past two months amply illustrate the way the government is treating the journalists”.
“Before the 19th session of the Human Right Council we listed all the threats, propaganda and attacks directed at journalists and media defenders. The first two months of this year were enough to show that the censorship of websites, especially those based abroad, has increased,” Benjamin Ismaïl told the JDS.
He seriously urged the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister “to visit Reporters Without Borders’ website more often before saying – nothing happens to those newspapers which are full of the most abusive criticism.”
“Denying the lack of press freedom in Sri Lanka is either a proof of incompetence or a confession of the absence of will to commit to the improvement of Human rights protection. There is no other possibility”, Benjamin Ismaïl said.
‘An outright lie’
Calling the statement made by Foreign Minister Peiris in Tokyo as “an outright lie”, General Secretary of Sri Lanka Working Journalist Association (SLWJA), Lasantha Ruhunuge, said that it was “not just twisting facts, but even unashamedly inventing them to support his absurd and outrageous claims”.
“How dare he trample on the graves of the murdered media men and women – all unresolved murders – and ask what’s wrong with press freedom? What about Sivaram? What about Lasantha, Sugirtharajan and Prageeth? What about burning down and sealing off media offices, bombing TV stations, imprisoning journalists and publishers, breaking limbs of journalists and ministers publicly admitting responsibility for such crimes,” Mr Ruhunuge queried.
Sri Lanka holds one of the worst records in the world for press freedom and journalists’ safety. According to the detailed information gathered by the JDS, the government and its paramilitaries stand accused of killing at least 39 journalists and media workers since May 2004.