Aug 29, Colombo: Media organizations in Sri Lanka have written to the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission in the country demanding inquiries into the restrictions and attacks on media personnel.
Seven media organizations in a joint letter to the HRC Chairman stated that they are submitting the requests to the Commission based on the mandate and the official powers vested in the HRC.
Following is the full text of the letter handed over to the HRC Chairman:
Hon. Justice Priyantha Perera
National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
Media Freedom in Sri Lanka
We would like to thank you for inviting the Free Media Movement (FMM) and other media organizations for a discussion on the violations of the rights to freedom of expression, in the aftermath of the killing of three persons by the Army in Rathupaswela, and restrictions and attacks on media personnel who were covering the incident.
We would like to take this opportunity to present some concerns and specific requests to the NHRC in relation to the right to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. While we are submitting the requests to the NHRC based on the mandate and the official powers vested in the NHRC, we also look at this as an opportunity for meaningful collaboration between media freedom organizations in Sri Lanka and the NHRC, and pledge to extend whatever support we could.
- Investigate all incidents related to violations of the right to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka, including, but not limited to, below.
- Attacks, restrictions and threats against media personnel covering the protests in Rathupaswela earlier this month.
- Attack (and attempted abduction/murder) on Associate Editor of the Sunday Leader, Ms. Mandana Ismail Abeywickrama, who is also the President of the Sri Lankan Journalists Trade Union last week. Particular attention should be paid to motives beyond simple robbery, given the fact that the gang had perused files and document and was trying to abduct her around the time the Police had broken in, as well as and two warning signs in the previous week - the slashing of tires of the family vehicle by unknown persons and the dumping of a dead cat in the premises. .
- Repeated attacks on the Uthayan newspaper in Jaffna in 2013 and in previous years.
- Restrictions on journalists covering the resettlement process in Vanni in 2012.
- Disappearance of cartoonist / journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, with particular attention to public statements made by a Member of Parliament and the former Legal Advisor to the Cabinet (subsequently appointed as Chief Justice earlier this year) that Prageeth is living overseas.
- Abduction and attack on journalist Poddala Jayantha.
- Assassination of the Editor of the Sunday Leader, Mr. Lasantha Wickramatunga.
- Continuous false allegations and provocative statements made by state media against journalists, press freedom activists, human rights defenders and others.
- Inquire into progress or lack of progress made by Police investigations into the above incidents and provide us a preliminary update by 31st October 2013, along with relevant documentation.
- In view of the powers vested in the NHRC to "undertake research and disseminate and distribute results of such research" (Article 11 - f of the NHRC Act) and it's function "to promote awareness and provide education in relation to human rights". (Article 10-f of the NHRC Act). We request a preliminary report by the 31st October 2013 and final report by 31st December 2013.
- Based on its power to "whenever it considers it necessary to do so, submit periodic or special reports to Parliament in respect of any particular matter or matters referred to it, and the action taken in respect thereof" (Article 30 of NHRC Act), the NHRC submit this report (or a separate report on media freedom) to the Parliament by 31st December.
- Based on its function to "advice and assist the Government in formulating legislation and administrative directives and procedures, in furtherance of, the promotion and protection of fundamental rights". (Article 10-c of the NHRC Act), to make known the position of the NHRC with regard to the need for a "Right to Information Act". And if the HRC deems such Act (s) as necessary for the promotion and protection of human rights, inform us about steps it intends to take.
- The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has been used against journalists to suppress freedom of expression and continues to instill fear amongst journalists. Based on the NHRC's function to "make recommendations to the Government regarding measures which should be taken to ensure that national laws and administrative practices are in accordance with international human rights norms and standards" (Article 10 -d of the HRC Act), we request the NHRC make recommendations to the government to repeal the PTA or bring it in line with existing international obligations of the government.
- Call on the government to honor the commitment it made in 2006 to invite the UN Special Rapportuer on Freedom of Expression & Opinion to visit Sri Lanka in 2014, as part of a team of UN Special Rapportuers who have also requested invitations for a country visit.