News From Our Members

Sri Lanka: Journalists’ abductions

Party workers during the 2004 General Elections in Sri Lanka.
Written by will_henley

From CJA Newsletter March 2012, Edited by Debbie Ransome

Bob Dietz, the Asia Program Coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) sums up the situation in Sri Lanka:

“On March 9, Sri Lanka’s military authorities told all news and media organizations that they would have to get prior approval before releasing text or SMS news alerts containing any news about the military or police.

“I checked with some reporters in Colombo. The restrictions on reporting on the military were formally lifted in August 2011, after the end of the fighting with Tamil separatists three years ago.

“Here’s what one journalist told me when I asked about restrictions having been lifted: ‘Ostensibly yes. But if you write about them you have to be prepared to be abducted by a white van. We’ve also been told that if you write anything against the Defence secretary [Gothabaya Rajapaksa, brother of President Mahinda Rajapaksa], you can be certain he’ll put a tail on you. So that’s freedom for you.’

“About that white van: The reporter was referring to white Toyota Hi Ace vans with deeply tinted windows — some with no license plates, others with differing numbers on the front and rear — that are seen frequently in Sri Lanka. They have often been used in abductions, as we have noted many times. The first journalist to write about them, in November 2006, was a brave young reporter named Parameswaree Maunasámi, a Tamil writing for the Sinhalese-language weekly Mawbima. She was picked up soon after her article appeared and held for five months, but never charged.

“More from the reporter I have been messaging within the past few days: “Incidentally, white van abducts are back with a big bang. Two weeks ago they even abducted someone from the court premises. On Saturday they tried to abduct an Urban Council member, an opposition party man. His supporters managed to foil the abduction and apprehended five people who turned out to be army personnel.”

CJA communiqué on Sri Lanka, Maldives and South Africa:

At its triennial conference held in Malta (January 29 to February 2, 2012) the Commonwealth Journalists Association unanimously condemned instances of state repression against media reported out of Pakistan, Sri Lanka and some African member states of the Commonwealth. It also adopted the WAN-IFRA Table Mountain Declaration (2007) against curtailment of media rights.

Regarding the proposed next CHOGM in Sri Lanka (2013), the CJA raised in particular concerns about the issues of press freedom in Sri Lanka and the monitoring of human rights.

The CJA further asked Commonwealth member states and associated civil society bodies to renew and strengthen the organisation, so that it becomes a more meaningful global player in the 21st century, as broadly outlined in the Eminent Persons Group report (2011).

 Reporters Without Borders reaction:

(RSF/IFEX) – 28 February 2012 – Reporters Without Borders calls on all members of the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council, which began its 19th session yesterday, to pass a resolution condemning the Sri Lankan government’s violations of freedom of information and to demand an end to threats and violence against news media and human rights defenders in Sri Lanka.

“For more than a year we have been seeing new forms of censorship and deterioration in journalists’ ability to work although the war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) officially ended in 2009,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Rather than wait until the Universal Periodic Review to make recommendations, the Human Rights Council’s members should adopt a resolution now urging the government to take measures to improve freedom of information.

“The number of cases of physical attacks, death threats and imprisonment may have fallen in 2010 and 2011, but the authorities continue to prevent the media from enjoying real editorial freedom and many journalists are still in exile. Sri Lankan and foreign media are still unable to cover the issue of war crimes, which will be at the centre of the Human Rights Council’s discussions during the 19th session.

For more on developments in Sri Lanka:


Photo Credit: Commonwealth Secretariat

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