September 8, 2000
Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga
President, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
VIA FAX: 011-94-1-333-703
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes your decision to ease censorship restrictions on the Sri Lankan media. We are, however, disappointed that military-related news will still be subject to censorship regulations issued in previous years.
Your government today circulated an order that temporarily suspends two of Sri Lanka's emergency regulations, Regulation 12 (1), banning public meetings, and Regulation 14, which gave the administration broad powers of censorship. The order, which went into effect on September 5, marks a significant step toward restoring civil liberties, including press freedom, in Sri Lanka.
But in a separate statement issued today by the Information Department, Sri Lankan chief censor Ariya Rubasinghe announced that military-related reporting remained subject to censorship under regulations issued in June 1998 and November 1999. The topics proscribed by these regulations include "any matter pertaining to military operations in the Northern and Eastern Province . . . or any statement pertaining to the official conduct, morale, or the performance of the Head or of any member of the Armed Forces or the police force."
Press coverage of the seventeen-year-old civil war is already extremely limited by your government's refusal to grant journalists regular access to the conflict areas. Censorship of military-related news only compounds the problem, forcing the Sri Lankan public to rely on rumor and propaganda for information about the war.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of press freedom around the world, CPJ looks forward to the day when all barriers to independent reporting in Sri Lanka are lifted. We hope that Your Excellency will consider abandoning your censorship policy altogether, and that the administration will find a way to work with Sri Lankan journalists to develop a system that allows journalists to report first-hand on the course of the civil war.
We thank you for your attention to this urgent matter, and await your response.