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Home > Tamils - a Nation without a State > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Democracy, Sri Lanka Style Reporters sans frontières  protests against   closure of three newspapers by Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga

Democracy, Sri Lanka Style...

Reporters sans frontières (RSF), Paris
protests against the closure of three newspapers
by Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga

25 May 2000

In a 23 May 2000 letter to Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga, Reporters sans frontières (RSF) protested the suspension of three private newspapers and threats to close down a television broadcaster. According to the law, the head of state has the power to drop sanctions against media accused of violating the restrictions imposed by the government on 3 May with the intention of protecting "national security".

Recalling that BBC programmes have been suspended since 11 May, RSF asked the president to drop the sanctions against the newspapers and the British station (See IFEX alert of 12 May 2000). The organisation also asked her to withdraw the measures taken on 3 May which permit a news blackout. Robert Ménard, RSF's secretary-general, underlined that those measures and the sanctions taken against the media were "in contradiction with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by the Sri Lanka government, which guarantees freedom of expression".

According to information collected by RSF, state-owned radio and television announced on 22 May that two of the country's most popular weeklies, the English-language "Sunday Leader" and the Sinhalese-language "Sunday Peramuna", were to be closed until 17 November. The censorship and information department accuses them of publishing articles without official permission.

On 19 May, "Uthayan", the only newspaper publishing regularly in the northern city of Jaffna, was closed down by the Sri Lankan army. According to the authorities, the Tamil-language newspaper supports the rebels and has violated the new censorship restrictions.

Moreover, on 18 May police interrogated Namal Perera, news editor of the private television Telshan Network (TNL), which is close to the opposition. He is also suspected of violating the censorship restrictions.

According to the director of censorship, TNL informed viewers that it was not allowed to report a bomb attack that occurred in Batticaloa, eastern Sri Lanka, in which twenty people died. The broadcaster is now facing closure by the authorities. On 3 May the government claimed the right to suspend any television or radio programme and to seize or close down any publication which endangered "national security".

According to the censorship director, the measure was also applicable to news published on the Internet. Foreign correspondents were informed the same day by the post, telecommunications and media ministry that military censorship would apply to their reports on fighting between the army and Tamil separatists. The state-run Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) took the Sinhalese and Tamil news programmes of the BBC World Service, relayed by SLBC radio, off the air on 11 May. They were replaced by music programmes.

On the same day, BBC and CNN reports about Sri Lanka broadcast during the news programme of the SLBC's Channel One were blocked by the word "Censored".

For further information, contact Vincent Brossel at RSF, 5, rue Geoffroy Marie, Paris 75009, France, tel: +33 1 44 83 84 84, fax: +33 1 45 23 11 51, e-mail: [email protected] Internet: http://www.rsf.fr The information contained in this alert update is the sole responsibility of RSF. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit RSF.

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