Saturday, 09 November 2019 10:54

Sri Lanka’s Presidential candidates urged to protect press freedom

Paris based media rights group Reporters Without Borders, in a statement issued on Wednesday (6), called on the two main presidential contenders to 'give specific undertakings to defend press freedom in general and journalists’ editorial autonomy in particular.'

The latest RSF statement comes as a response to a threat made by the owners of Capital FM radio against Tamil-language news editor K.M. Razool, who was later fired from his job.

"Sri Lanka’s journalists have strong grounds for viewing the outcome of this election with concern, both for their editorial freedom and for their physical safety. Both candidates are riding a tide of Sinhalese and Buddhist ethno-nationalist rhetoric that is hostile to the Tamil and Muslim minorities, so reporters from these communities fear being the victims of even greater pressure,' the group said.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the candidate of the SLPP and brother of another former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose ten years in office, from 2005 to 2015, are described by reporters as a “dark decade,” one in which at least fourteen journalists were murdered in connection with their work, according to RSF’s barometer.

During his brother’s presidency, Gotabaya Rajapaksa was secretary of defense and used the position to crack down hard on journalists. He was, for example, said to have been directly implicated in the murder of the Sunday Leader’s well-known editor, Lasantha Wickramatunga, who was gunned down on 8 January 2009 after reporting that Gotabaya Rajapaksa was receiving backhanders.

After 2015, a former army chief reported that Gotabaya Rajapaksa had created a special unit known as the “Tripoli Platoon” whose sole job was getting rid of the journalists he disliked. Its speciality was abducting reporters in white vans and then killing them, with the result that Rajapaksa was nicknamed the head of the “white van commando.”


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