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Sri Lanka: News Websites Targeted And Journalists Threatened

On June 29, 2012, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Sri Lanka raided offices of two news websites, the Sri Lanka Mirror (srilankamirror.com) and Sri Lanka X News (srilankaxnews.com). They arrested nine journalists, including the editor, and seized equipments on the grounds that the websites were “propagating false and unethical news on Sri Lanka.” The Sri Lanka X News is known as the official news website of the Sri Lanka's main opposition United National Party (UNP).

Patta Pal Boru questions the process:

The raid on Friday June 29th at the offices of both Sri Lanka Mirror and Lanka X news was not legal. The Police stated that those people were taken into custody under Section 118 of the Penal Code. But, since this Section on the Law of Criminal Defamation has been repealed under Act No. 12 of 2002, the Magistrate ordered to release them all on Police bail.

The blogger adds:

It is obvious that there is no real check to see if what the police does is legal as they seem to be blindly taking orders, not knowing if they are actually legal. What kind of country is this for the police to act in this way?

A statement issued by the srilankamirror.com site said the site would resume from July 2, 2012.

On the other hand Maryam Azwer informs that Thevanayagam Premananth, the editor of a Tamil newspaper Uthayan was summoned to court and he was asked to apologize for a published article.

Remembering fallen journalists on press freedom day 2012 in Jaffna, Sri Lanka. Image from Flickr by Sampath Samarakoon (Vikalpasl). CC BY-NC

The Committee to Protect Journalists reported that Frederica Jansz, the editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper was threatened by the defense secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa during an interview. Ms. Jansz contacted the defense secretary to find out if he was aware that the management at Sri Lankan Airlines had taken a decision to change a scheduled aircraft to a smaller one so that a specific pilot could personally fly the aircraft that would carry a ‘puppy dog’ for the Defense Secretary from Zurich. Mr. Rajapaksa, who is the brother of the incumbent president, at one point become furious and used abusive language threatening the newspaper to not to write about this matter. Mr. Rajapaksa defended his position here.

Indi.ca opines that irrespective of the subject matter:

This type of tirade is an embarrassment from a public official.

The blogger also writes:

All too often, this is how the government play goes. Someone, usually a Rajapaksa, says something ridiculous. In this case, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa called a journalist a ‘pig who eats shit’ and said ‘people will kill you’, all over a puppy story. I know. Then, rather than dialing down on the issue, in this case media freedom, the government dials up the crazy, this time by imposing an onerous tax on online media. [..]

[..] the Media Minister is asking online media to pay Rs. 100,000 to prevent ‘raw filth’. It’s mind boggling because this is what the Defense Secretary was speaking, including threats to violence, which should be taken seriously cause the last Editor of the Sunday Leader was killed.

According to JDS (Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka) the Sri Lankan government has said that it will amend a decades-old media law in order to bring in all news websites and electronic media under regulation. In addition to the registration requirement of news websites, the government is now asking that they should also pay Rs. 100,000 for the privilege, plus Rs. 50,000 annual fee. Indi.ca comments:

This tax is terrible because it inhibits anyone trying to express themselves or create websites after all. After all, what exactly is a news website? Is this blog? If I hired two writers would it become one? Who knows? What if you have not a news website but a popular Facebook page?

The Human Rights Watch has asked the Sri Lankan government to stop harassing the media. A number of Sri Lankan journalists and activists have staged  a demonstration, protesting the government's repression of media and the intimidation of dissenting journalists.

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