Media repression in Sri Lanka exposed

A forum on human rights and media freedom in Sri Lanka attracted 200 people on June 6.

More than 130 media personnel have been murdered in Sri Lanka since 1981. Many others have been arrested or violently assaulted.

Anne Noonan, from the International Federation of Journalists, said Sri Lanka was the most dangerous country for journalists in the Asia-Pacific region. Many journalists are now seeking refuge overseas.

Noonan said Sri Lankan journalists of different ethnic backgrounds and political views were working together to defend media freedom.

Australia's Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance has set up a Safety and Solidarity Fund to help Sri Lankan journalists.

Noonan highlighted the forthcoming trial of journalist J S Tissanayagam, who was arrested in March 2008. Tissanayagam has been charged with "inciting communal disharmony" in his articles.

The meeting also heard from two Sri Lankan human rights campaigners who are co-conveners of the newly established human rights group Platform for Freedom.

J C Weliamuna, a lawyer and executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, said journalists had been murdered by all parties to the war between the Sri Lankan state and the Tamil minority struggling for self-determination. The government had waged a "hate campaign" against any media personnel who dissented from government policy.

Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence, spoke of the importance of free expression. He said that there had been a "war without witnesses" in the north of Sri Lanka.

Journalists were often murdered in busy streets in broad daylight, in close proximity to the Sri Lankan government's security forces. The killers were confident they would never be caught, he said.

The event was organised by People for Human Rights and Equality, a group involving Australians of Sri Lankan origin from different ethnic backgrounds, in association with the Darebin Ethnic Communities Council.

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