Friday, April 29, 2011

Authorities continue drive to stamp out pro-opposition media

Reporters Without Borders condemns yesterday’s refusal by a court in the Colombo suburb of Pugoda to release Shantha Wijesuriya, a journalist with the Lanka E-news online newspaper, on bail pending trial on a contempt of court charge for an erroneous news report. Access to the website was also blocked on an order from the court pending the outcome of the trial.
Wijesuriya has been held in Mahara prison since 25 April for wrongly reporting on 19 April that the Pugoda court ignored a directive from the attorney-general’s office when it released two police officers accused of murder. Lanka E-News posteda correction and apology three days after the original report.

“It is unacceptable that Wijesuriya is being detained and is facing a possible jail sentence over an error in a news report,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François Julliard said. “Any journalist in the world can make this kind of mistake. Wijesuriya acted according to professional ethics by publishing a correction and apologizing to the court. There are absolutely no grounds for either the jail sentence he is facing or the order banning the website from publishing any more articles. By blocking the site, Judge Aravinda Perera has assumed powers that until now were reserved for the ministry of mass media and information.”

Julliard added: “Lanka E-news is one of the last opposition news media to keep going in Sri Lanka despite the harassment and threats. Their criticism of the government is now resulting in an unprecedented degree of harassment. We may be witnessing this online newspaper’s final days. Journalists in Sri Lanka are gagged by the entire state apparatus. We appeal to the United Nations to put pressure on the government to end this policy of suppressing opposition media, which are entirely legitimate in a democracy.”

Wijesuriya’s lawyer, Manjula Pathiraja, reiterated the online newspaper’s apology yesterday to the court, which adjourned the case until 12 May and ordered the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission to block access to the website within Sri Lanka until the end of the trial.

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