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Sri Lanka 9 November 2006

Army tries to force tamil press into self-censorship

Reporters Without Borders has condemned a campaign of harassment by Sri Lankan security forces in a bid to force Tamil journalists into self-censorship, since the resumption of conflict between the army and Tamil Tigers (LTTE) rebels.

Scores of Tamil journalists have been forced into hiding or silence since then and for fear of reprisals, most correspondents for Tamil media in the east of the country no longer by-line their articles.

"While the political and humanitarian situation calls for free and pluralist news and information, the parties to the conflict and particularly the army are using force to impose censorship or self-censorship," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "The government must act in response and guarantee Tamil media the right to publish forthright and investigative work." "Investigative journalism is dead in the Tamil media and everyone is operating self-censorship," Reporters Without Borders recently explained to a Tamil editor, himself a victim of intimidation.

The organisation considers Sri Lanka to be one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists.

Officers of the 512th army division on 6 November, summoned to their offices in Jaffna the editors of Tamil newspapers Uthayan, Yarl Thinakural and Valampur. They told them not to publish news from the Tamil Tigers and particularly not to print a message from LTTE leader, Veluppillai Prabakaran, on ’Heroes Day’ on 27 November.

According to the Jaffna-based journalists, the officers also criticised the editors about their frequent articles on the humanitarian crisis in the Jaffna peninsula. The journalists reportedly refused to give way to the demands of the military to stop writing that the lack of food and petrol was mainly due to the army embargo around Jaffna.

The Free Media Movement said this summons also followed the publication of an interview with the former political head of the LTTE in Jaffna. Journalists in the region were previously summoned and threatened by the army in September.

Also on 6 November, new police chief Victor Perera accused the media of publishing false information about a wave of kidnappings of Tamils in the country. According to the government paper Daily News he told the media to publish the information only after the police investigation was completed and not to "rush to publish false information". The Asian Human Rights Commission has reported that nearly 700 Tamils have been abducted since the start of 2006.

At the beginning of November, George David of the news agency Reuters and the broadcast group Sirasa, was threatened by soldiers in Trincomalee, eastern Sri Lanka. ""You are suspicious. We have the power and we can do what we want," one officer told the journalist during a patrol. The authorities, including the local police chief, were informed about the incident.

At the Geneva Peace Conference at the end of October, the head of the government delegation, the minister Nimal Siripala de Silva, accused the Sinhalese section of the BBC World Service of supporting the LTTE. The official accused a reporter for the British radio of being "payroll" in the Tamil Tigers.

Security forces in the east of the country have done nothing to restore the circulation of several Tamil media after para-military groups effectively banned distribution of the newspapers Virakesari, Thinakural and Sudar Oli, seen as favourable to Tamil nationalism. Para-militaries from the dissident LTTE group Karuna burned 10,000 copies of Virakesari near Batticaloa on 22 October.

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