IFJ Calls on UN to Investigate Press Freedom Violations in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) today asked the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate cases of serious violations of journalists’ rights in Sri Lanka under the cloak of countering terrorism.

In a statement to the tenth session of the UN human rights body in Geneva, the IFJ singled out Sri Lanka as one of the countries where counter-terrorism measures are used as a disguise to deny journalists their rights “through arbitrary arrest and detention for exercising their right to freedom of expression”.

The statement, which was endorsed by Article 19, the International Press Institute and the World Association of Newspapers, was delivered in the council’s session “on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism”.

The IFJ requested the Council to initiate a formal investigation into the application of anti-terror legislation in the case of senior Tamil journalist J.S. Tissainyagam, who has been in detention in Sri Lanka for just over a year, accused of terrorism for the content of his writing.

“All States, including Sri Lanka, must ensure that counter-terrorism legislation does not give cover to the practice of repression against media and journalists,” the statement said.

The statement further called on the Council to support effective implementation of international humanitarian provisions and UN Security Council Resolution 1738 which provide for protection of journalists who are working in areas of armed conflict.

“The support of major press freedom organisations to this statement is a measure of the gravity of the media crisis in Sri Lanka,” IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said.

“We look to the UN Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism to act on our joint appeal in Sri Lanka.”

Tissainayagam was detained on March 7 last year by the Terrorist Investigation Division of the Sri Lankan police. He was held in detention for more than three months without explanation.

On August 25, Tissainayagam was indicted on three charges under Sri Lanka’s Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and Emergency Regulations. The charges refer to the content of articles he wrote in 2006 and 2007 for a Tamil publication, North Eastern Weekly. He is currently on trial.

The IFJ is deeply worried at the manner in which States apply counter-terrorism legislation to silence independent voices. The characteristically ambiguous language and provisions of too many States’ counter-terrorism legislation allow authorities an opening to violate the rights of citizens, including journalists, by means of detention without valid explanation, delayed issue of charges, and the presentation of evidence based on vague definitions of a crime.

For the text of the IFJ statement, see IFJ Text Statement HRC Mar09.

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  1. […] IFJ Calls on UN to Investigate Press Freedom Violations in Sri Lanka […]

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