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Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Sri Lanka

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 1999
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 1998 - Sri Lanka, February 1999, available at: [accessed 22 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

As of December 31, 1998

Faced with an embarrassing and deadly stalemate in the 15-year war against Tamil separatists, President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government continued its retreat from the support for civil liberties that helped bring her to power in 1994.

In this climate, journalists who report on the military were particularly vulnerable. In February, armed men invaded the home of veteran military affairs reporter Iqbal Athas and threatened to kill him. A recipient of CPJ's 1994 International Press Freedom Award, Athas had recently written a series of articles on procurement irregularities in the Sri Lankan air force for his newspaper, The Sunday Times.

Kumaratunga imposed military censorship in June. The action stifled local and foreign reporters' attempts to investigate military policies and procurements. And it gave the aggressive propaganda department of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) – which provided figures on battlefield casualties to foreign news agencies more rapidly than the Sri Lankan military – an upper hand in shaping coverage of the war.

In August, the Defense Ministry expanded the scope of censored subjects to include a ban on news of the transfer of officers within the government security forces' high command. The ministry maintained that the LTTE could use this information in devising its military strategy.

Journalists' efforts to negotiate with the government on improving the climate for free expression mostly fell on deaf ears. In April, leaders of the Sri Lankan press and government officials held a conference in Colombo to promote mutual understanding. The journalists at the conference passed the "Colombo Declaration on Media Freedom and Social Responsibility," calling for a number of reforms, among them the replacement of the harsh Official Secrets Act with a Freedom of Information Act, and the passage of laws to protect journalistic sources from attack in the courts.

The conference initiated a brief period of cooperation between the media and the government, evidenced by the testimony of several journalists in parliament on a host of proposed reforms. But the rapprochement came to an end with the imposition of censorship less than two months after the gathering.

Attacks on the Press in Sri Lanka in 1998

06/17/98Lasantha Wickrematunge, Sunday LeaderAttacked
06/05/98All journalistsCensored
03/22/98Joy Jeyakumar, ThinakuralHarassed
03/22/98M.A.M. Nilam, ThinkakuralHarassed
03/04/98Pradeep Kumara Dharmaratne, DinaminaAttacked
02/27/98Jin Hui, XinhuaImprisoned, Legal Action, Expelled
02/27/98Pradeep Kumara Dharmaratne, DinaminaAttacked
02/19/98All mediaCensored
02/16/98Pradeep Kumara Dharmaratne, DinaminaAttacked, Threatened, Harassed
02/12/98Iqbal Athas, The Sunday TimesAttacked, Threatened, Harassed
01/03/98Nirupama Subramanian, Indian ExpressHarassed
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