July 31, Colombo: The Sri Lankan government today charged that the actions of the United States targeting a specific community in the island can seriously hamper the fragile reconciliation process.
"Given the sensitivities involved when the country is going through a sensitive process of national reconciliation, restrictively targeting a specific group of people from a particular community or region can lead to a perpetuation of mistrust among communities, seriously hampering reconciliation efforts," the External Affairs Ministry said.
The External Affairs Ministry was responding to a statement issued by the United States Embassy in Colombo on July 28 expressing concerns on media freedom in Sri Lanka.
The U.S. Embassy statement refers to incidents surrounding the cancellation by the organizers, of a training organized for Jaffna based journalists, funded by the US government through Rights Now Collective for Democracy, which is registered under the Companies Act.
The Embassy in a statement on Monday said the cancellation of the training, which was focused on digital security for Jaffna-based journalists and financially supported by the U.S. government, was accompanied by a series of threats and intimidation of training participants and other journalists around the country.
The Ministry said the basis for such training programs to be funded through the US Embassy is unclear, particularly when the target group has been limited to one geographical region and ethnic group.
The government said the Embassy statement chose to ignore the responses provided by the government, following queries raised over the weekend on this issue by US government officials, "in a spirit of reciprocal engagement," both in Colombo and in Washington D.C.
The "circumstances surrounding the cancellation" of the event according to the statement, appear to be the protest that reportedly took place against the conduct of the Workshop, which has been denounced by the US Embassy.
The Ministry noted that the rights of these protestors to the freedom of assembly and expression are being inappropriately questioned by the Embassy, which in its statement refers to these principles in the context of "those who interfere with both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly".
The U.S. Embassy statement said that the events continue a troubling pattern of impunity for those who interfere with both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Sri Lanka.
"The US Embassy appears to be selectively upholding these fundamental principles in Sri Lanka, depending on who is exercising the right, whereas such protests have been taking place all over the world, including in the USA, and on numerous occasions organized by extremist elements against the Sri Lankan State," the Ministry pointed out.
"If the Embassy had expressed concern about the reports of intimidation of media personnel the Ministry would have expected the sharing of specific details of such intimidation and harassment in the spirit of constructive engagement, without making judgmental statements based on erroneous and biased information," the Ministry stressed.
The U.S. Embassy in its statement urged the Sri Lankan Government to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of fundamental rights for journalists and for all Sri Lankans.