The Commonwealth Journalists Association (CJA) is deeply concerned at the disappearance of Sri Lankan journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and appalled that Sri Lanka’s ‘democratic’ government continues to persecute journalists for committing the ‘sin’ of criticizing the ruling party.
We stand together with Sri Lankan media groups that have justifiably condemned the forced suspension of a pro-opposition newspaper, Lanka, and the arrest of its editor and the apparent shutting down — however temporarily — of lankaenews.com, the website to which Prageeth contributes.
The ugly and oppressive actions make a joke of President Mahinda Rajapaksan’s offer to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting – an offer that was wisely shelved, though not yet rejected, by Commonwealth leaders at their Trinidad and Tobago summit.
“The Sri Lankan leadership appears to have only a slim grasp on the concept of democracy,” said CJA President Hassan Shahriar. “So let me, as a representative of journalists across the Commonwealth, state the obvious:
Any government that subjects its independent news media to such violent and arbitrary actions has no right to call itself democratic. Sri Lanka doesn’t even come close to adhering to the most basic principles of the Commonwealth or, for that matter, of basic human rights.”
Shahriar urged Commonwealth leaders to use all the influence at their disposal to reverse this “vicious” trend.
“A government that has zero tolerance for criticism is a government that lusts for power for power’s sake,” he added. “If Sri Lanka’s efforts to ingratiate itself with the Commonwealth are to be taken remotely seriously, then Commonwealth leaders need to speak as one in condemning this appalling state of affairs.”
Shahriar also sent heartfelt wishes to Prageeth Eknaligoda’s wife Sandhya and the couple’s two sons.
“We can only imagine the agony you and your family are suffering,” he said. “Everyone in the Commonwealth journalists family are praying for your husband’s safe return.”
In urging the Commonwealth to pressure the Sri Lankan government on the issue of press freedom and the safety of journalists, the CJA president also endorsed the following statement from five Sri Lankan media groups — SLWJA, FMETU, SLMMF, SLTJA and FMM.
“These incidents show clearly that media suppression is on the increase in post election period. These developments will hamper any informed discussion on the aftermaths of presidential election and the malpractices reported.
The result will be the violation of people’s right to information. This in turn will seriously limit people’s ability to make informed judgments on political developments. We would like to reiterate that in the light of the parliamentary election due in few months time, it is all the more necessary to re establish our peoples right to information without delay by making the media environment free.
In this context, considering that press freedom as the expression of people’s right to information and freedom of speech, we, the five media organizations in Sri Lanka earnestly urge all democratic forces in the country, diplomatic corps in Sri Lanka, United Nations, International human rights, press freedom and journalists safety organizations to use their good offices to ensure that government of Sri Lanka stop the media suppression and create a free and democratic post election environment.