May 15, 2000
Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
President, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
VIA FAX: 011-94-1-333-703
CPJ is gravely concerned by your government's further tightening of censorship restrictions governing coverage of the civil war between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The recent regulations are the most draconian ever imposed on the media in Sri Lanka, according to local journalists.
On May 4, under the provisions of the Public Security Act, the government ordered all foreign correspondents and international news agencies filing from Sri Lanka to submit their reports to a censor. Local journalists have been subject to censorship provisions since June 1998, but punitive measures are now in place to enforce the regulations. The government now has the power to arrest journalists, seize their property, block the distribution of newspapers, and shut down printing presses if authorities determine that a publication has flouted the censor's rules. "The publication of any material that could harm national security may be banned," the state-run Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation announced on May 4.
These regulations were imposed following critical military advances by the rebel LTTE forces. Even before these advances, however, Sri Lankan authorities routinely denied journalists access to conflict areas, thus hampering their ability to report on the war.
As an organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ condemns your government's decision to pursue this policy of censorship, which is incompatible with democratic governance. No democratically elected government can flourish by denying citizens their right to information. We urge Your Excellency to lift the censorship orders immediately and to ensure that journalists are able to report freely in conflict zones, so that the Sri Lankan people may have access to independent reporting on the course of the civil war.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter, and await your response.
Ann K. Cooper