Sri Lanka – Where Has Freedom of Speech Gone?

I’m back in Sri Lanka for the summer holidays with the expectation of relaxing on the beach and having a great time. But many things that have been happening to journalists in Sri Lanka have made me stop and think.
Lots of people tell me “Sri Lanka is not the place to be a journalist, there are too many risks.” Well, that’s the point of being a journalist; to take risks, face challenges and bring out the best story. However, Sri Lankan media is facing a great battle.

Not even two weeks after I came here, a leading television and radio station was thrashed by an anonymous group.
In January 2010 Sri Lanka held its presidential election. The two main candidates were Mahinda Rajapaksha (MR) the current president at that time and General Sarath Fonseka (SF) the army commander who was in charge of wiping out the war that was going on for more than twenty years.

SF lost the election by 1.8 million votes and was held hostage before being arrested and charged with corruption and engaging in politics while in uniform. SF was not allowed to be interviewed by journalists but his handwritten notes were smuggled out of the Sri Lanka naval headquarters; SF believed that he was being held illegally and his life may remain at risk.

It’s not only SF’s life that remains at risk; it is also the Sri Lankan journalists who reports on anything critical of the government. It is the responsibility of journalists to speak the truth and inform the public but when they do so their life is at risk. Between 2006 and 2009 at least ten journalists have been killed and more kidnapped.
An editor of a leading newspaper, Mr. Lasantha Wickrematunge who was critical of the government was shot dead by unidentified gunmen in 2009. In the same week there was another major attack on the media; a gang armed with guns and grenades ransacked the largest private TV broadcaster in the country.

In his last editorial Mr. Wickrematunge wrote: “It is no secret that the war has become Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recipe for electoral success,”. He also criticised opposition parties for staying mute writing: “That is why more journalists have been attacked in recent years than have opposition politicians.”

Is it fair that journalists have to face such pressures and intimidation? The government should do something to bring back freedom of speech to Sri Lanka.


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