Saturday, April 30, 2011

Media rights groups protest blockage of pro-opposition news website, reporter's arrest

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — International media rights groups are calling on Sri Lankan authorities to release a journalist arrested over an incorrect news report and to unblock his company's website.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday's court order to detain the reporter and block pro-opposition news website LankaeNews was just the latest attempt by authorities to "silence an independent news outlet."
The order was made despite the website publishing a correction and an apology for the story it published.


"We call on the appeals court to overturn this order and allow LankaeNews to continue to publish," said Robert Mahoney, the group's deputy director.
Reporter Shantha Wijesuriya is facing contempt of court charges for a story about a judge refusing to take orders from the attorney general's office. The story turned out to be incorrect.
"It is unacceptable that Wijesuriya is being detained and is facing a possible jail sentence over an error in a news report," Paris-based Reporters Without Borders' secretary-general Jean-Francois 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."
LankaeNews, a harsh critic of President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government, has been the target of intimidation.
The website's offices were burned down earlier this year and one of its columnists has been missing for 15 months and is suspected to have been abducted.
"LankaeNews is one of the last opposition news media to keep going in Sri Lanka despite the harassment and threats," Julliard said. "Their criticism of the government is now resulting in an unprecedented degree of harassment."

The government had no immediate comment on the criticism.
Media rights groups have said Sri Lanka has some of the most difficult working conditions for journalists.

Amnesty International says at least 14 Sri Lankan reporters and media workers have been killed since 2006, and no arrests have been made in their killings.

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