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Sri Lanka: Websites that criticise the Government to be dealt with

Issued by Steering Committee, NfR Sri Lanka

(January 18, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The attention of NfR has been drawn to a conversation that is reported to have taken place at a breakfast meeting hosted by President Mahinda Rajapakse for senior media personnel in Colombo on the 13th of January, 2011.

According to media reports the President has told those who had attended the meeting that a separate unit is investigating the activities of certain websites with a view to 'take action' against them. ( External link)

The President's remark was reportedly in response to a suggestion by the Editor of the Silumina Newspaper Mr Karunadasa Sooriyarachchi. Mr Sooriyarachchi is reported to have pointed out to the President that there
are websites "attacking the Government, the Country, the President's family and sometimes his own Institution' and had asked, "Why measures should not be taken against those websites". Following the President's
response, the Silumina, a State controlled Sinhala weekly, carried a lead story last week titled "Some websites are a threat to national security".

The President is also reported to have said that the biggest challenge he faces is the media. In a democracy, media is considered to be an asset and not a challenge. Assets are to be cherished and challenges are to be
surmounted. The very foundation of democracy hinges on the right to free speech. The publication of news items and articles both favourable and critical of the government, are very much part and parcel of that freedom.

It may be recalled that many government controlled media outlets have on earlier occasions too, labeled some journalists as "traitors". These malicious allegations resulted in many journalists being abducted, assaulted, jailed or murdered as in the case of the editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga.

It is also disconcerting to note that the President is reported to have chosen to malign the Tamil newspapers by alleging that "Tamil newspapers are still partial to the LTTE and are supportive of the LTTE sympathizers
and their actions". If this report of the President's allegation is true, then the free hand given to the Sinhala and other media outlets which continue to publish mischievous news items against those whom they see as
traitors, needs to be questioned. In fact, to build a united Sri Lanka all media institutions should be treated equally. NfR is deeply concerned of the President's remarks in this regard.

With the conventional print and electronic media in Sri Lanka shackled by various coercive methods, both legal and illegal, websites provide an alternative space for reporting news, critical of the government or
otherwise, and is an essential adjunct to free speech in Sri Lanka. The free exchange of ideas on the internet, is given much importance in many countries other than in the most repressive of regimes such as China
and Iran. It is a matter of concern that Sri Lanka too, is now heading in that direction.

Steering committee : Kshama Ranawana ( Canada) Lionel Bopage ( Australia), Nadarasa Sarawanan (Norway), Nadarajah Kuruparan(UK) Padmi Liyanage (Germany), Raveendran Pradeepan (France), Rudhramoorthy Cheran (Canada), Saman Wagaarachchi ( USA), Sunanda Deshapriya ( Switzerland)

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