Free press under siege in Sri Lanka

There has been a violent and deeply worrying crackdown on dissent, reports Amnesty's Deputy Asia-Pacific Director

Share
Related Topics

“They cut my hair and put it into my mouth, then gagged me. They struck both my legs, breaking one at the ankle. They used a piece of wood to smash the fingers on my right hand until they bled. They said, ‘This will stop you from writing’.”

These are the words of Poddala Jayantha, who was an outspoken critic of the Sri Lankan government’s treatment of media and also led the country’s main journalism union. In June 2009, he was abducted and tortured by armed men who broke his fingers so he could not write.

Jayantha had only returned to Sri Lanka a few weeks before the assault – he had left the country earlier in 2009 following the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader, a newspaper that had also criticised the government.

Today he lives in exile as he fears for his own safety in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately he is far from alone.

Since the 2009 end to the Sri Lankan armed conflict, when government forces defeated the Tamil Tigers (LTTE), the government led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa has intensified a crackdown on dissent in a bid to tighten its grip on power. Human rights activists, the judiciary and opposition politicians are among those who have been targeted through threats, harassment and violent attacks.

The government-sponsored abuse fits a disturbing and deliberate pattern of silencing critical voices, which has created a real climate of fear in Sri Lanka. This is a situation that we at Amnesty International are highlighting in a new report, “Assault on Dissent”, published yesterday.

Journalists and other media workers have also been among those who have had to suffer the most obvious repression. While much of Sri Lankan media is firmly in the hands of the authorities, the government has targeted outlets that remain independent and criticize official policies or the government’s conduct during the armed conflict.

Since 2006, at least 15 media personnel have been killed, while countless others, like Jayantha, have felt compelled to leave the country. Critical reporters are subjected to harassment and threats from authorities, often through government-run media, while their offices are raided.

Websites with articles critical of the government face frequent cyber attacks, while their offices have been raided by police or burned down by unidentified arsonists. The government has also used amendments to legislation – such as providing for the imposition of exorbitant “registration” fees – to shut down critical online outlets.

Our report documents dozens of such cases. In particular, media outlets active in the Tamil-majority north, where the bloody final months of the armed conflict played out, have been targeted.

An example is the daily Jaffna-based newspaper Uthayan, which has suffered repeated violent attacks over many years. Its editors have been beaten up, its offices vandalised, and just in the past month two of its staff members were hospitalised after armed men attacked a distribution office in Killinochchi.

The violent crackdown on dissent in Sri Lanka has to be seen in the context of the country’s armed conflict. The government is essentially carrying on a war-time security regime that criminalises freedom of expression.

Authorities reserve particular ire for those who dare to criticise its conduct during the armed conflict, when tens of thousands of civilians are thought to have died at the hands of the LTTE and the army.

With the government showing no political will whatsoever to reverse this disturbing trend, the international community must deliver a strong message in support of Sri Lankans who continue to advocate for human rights change in the face of extreme danger. These abuses cannot be allowed to continue with impunity. We urge all countries, including the UK, to highlight and put pressure on Sri Lanka to end the current cycle of abuse.

Equally important is that Sri Lanka should not be allowed to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November unless there have been concrete and substantial improvements in the country’s human rights situation.

Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right – the Sri Lankan government must not be allowed to ignore this.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nicola Sturgeon and her former boss Alex Salmond  

I voted Yes in the referendum – but that doesn't mean I'm going to vote for the Tory-esque SNP

Alasdair Clark
 

If I were Prime Minister: I'd shrink the gap between the highest and lowest paid

Marina Warner
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power