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Sri Lanka's Genocidal War - '95 to '01
"Censorship far broader than necessary to protect national security" says Article 19 yet again
In a letter dated 23 July 1998, Article 19, the International Centre Against Censorship told Sri Lanka Minister of Media, Mangala Samaraweera:
" ARTICLE 19, the International Centre Against Censorship, is concerned about a number of issues relating to media freedom that have arisen in recent weeks. These include, particularly, the governments re-imposition of direct censorship under the emergency regulations and the apparent lack of progress that has been made by the Sri Lankan police in investigating the recent armed attacks on the homes of two newspaper editors.
We are also greatly concerned about two journalists, P. Manikavasagam and Sri Gajan, both of "Virakesari", who are currently reported to be held incommunicado on the Fourth Floor of Police Headquarters in Colombo, so occasioning fears for their safety. We would appreciate receiving prompt clarification of the reasons and legal basis for their arrest and detention, and would urge that they are granted immediate access to legal counsel, their relatives and an independent medical practitioner. If they are being held on account of their pursuit of their profession as journalists or on account of their peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, we urge that they be released immediately and unconditionally.
We remain gravely concerned about the re-imposition of direct censorship under the emergency regulations. In our view, this represents a seriously retrograde step which further undermines the cause of media freedom in Sri Lanka, to which your government previously expressed commitment.
We note that the current censorship regulations differ from those used previously but they remain far broader than is necessary to protect genuine national security interests, and it is clear that they are again being applied in an arbitrary and unjustifiable manner.
In our report, Silent War: Censorship and the Conflict in Sri Lanka, published in March 1996, we provided a detailed analysis of the operation of the direct censorship in force between September and December 1995.
This showed clearly how material and information which fell outside the range of subjects specified under what were already broadly-framed censorship regulations was also cut by the governments censors: some of this was of an apparently trivial nature but other material deleted by the censors had serious human rights or humanitarian ramifications.
Further, some of the deleted material contained no evident threat to national security; some was material which had already been published in other media abroad or even locally; some was information already well-known to the general public; and some material appeared to have been cut with the intention of withholding from the public about important political issues. In some instances, the censors actually altered information contained in the original reports submitted by the press.
On the two previous occasions that direct censorship has been in force during the period of this government, it has been implemented by a civilian Competent Authority. Now, however, we note that the Competent Authority is a military officer, and fear that he may be interpreting the notion of national security in an even more broad and far-reaching manner than that utilised during the previous periods of direct censorship. This appears to be borne out somewhat by information which we are receiving from journalists and editors, who complain that direct censorship is again being imposed in an arbitrary manner.
The censor, we understand, is often requiring material to be suppressed which cannot be justified in strictly national security terms.
In this connection, we wish again to refer you to the Johannesburg Principles on National Security, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, which have previously been made available to the Sri Lankan government, and which draw on international and regional law and standards to set out the extent to which restrictions on expression can justifiably be imposed to protect a legitimate national security interest...."