HRW urges Sri Lanka to end journalist harassment

HRW urges Sri Lanka to end journalist harassment

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[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged the government of Sri Lanka to end arrests and office raids of journalists [press release] who publish content critical of the government. HRW noted two recent instances where police raided offices and arrested journalists at two news agencies [press release], charging them under a law that bans “excit[ing] or attempt[ing] to excite feelings of disaffection to the president or to the government.” The rights group said the raids were part of a pattern of harassment and intimidation by the government to suppress speech critical of government authorities. HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said the suppression of journalists only highlights the need for change in Sri Lanka:

The government raids did not just target two media outlets but were part of a broader effort to intimidate and harass all critical journalists. Sri Lanka’s poor reputation on free speech will only sink lower unless these assaults on the media stop immediately. … Instead of “shooting the messenger” by harassing the websites that are critical of government policies, the government should focus on addressing the problems raised. The government only seems interested in preventing these issues from being exposed or discussed.

HRW noted that Sri Lankan authorites have ignored criticisms from the US embassy in Sri Lanka, and the EU. The report noted that the restrictive press policies have forced many reporters to leave the countries.

Protection of free expression remains a key concern for international human rights advocates. Two reports were presented in June to the UN Human Rights Council urging greater protection for the right to life of journalists [JURIST report] and media freedom. In February, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released its annual Attacks on the Press report [JURIST report], expressing concern about increased censorship of journalists worldwide in 2011. The CPJ criticized the growing trend of government censorship, especially Internet censorship. Last May, journalism rights group Reporters without Borders (RSF) released [JURIST report] its annual list of predators of press freedom, which included the heads of state of several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. In April 2011, the US Department of State (DOS) released its 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, listing many of the same offenders of free press as the RSF report.