Reporters Without Borders today condemned moves to prevent the media obtaining information after violent clashes in the north of the country on 23 April in which the Sri Lankan army reportedly lost 185 men.
“The clashes and the evident losses have pushed the military authorities into establishing preventive censorship, preventing photographers and reporters from reaching hospitals and morgues to establish the death toll,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
“The contradictory statements by those involved and constant pressure from the government which only wants to see the most patriotic articles, shows the urgent need for independent coverage of events currently shaking the region,” it added.
In one of the most violent engagements on the Jaffna Peninsula in recent years, security forces battled Tiger Tamil fighters of the LTTE, leaving losses apparently much heavier than those reported by either side. Each side claimed to have killed around 100 troops.
While the defence ministry said on the day of the battle that 43 soldiers had been killed and that 33 others were missing, unofficial military sources said the army had lost 185 men and that 20 were missing. The army also claimed to have killed more than 3,000 LTTE fighters since the start of 2008, which corresponds to the figure for the total Tigers force provided by the military command six months earlier.
The government is trying to win the news war by doing its utmost to keep journalists away from combat zones and medical facilities as well as trying to influence the editorial stance of both local and national newspapers.
Five journalists’ organisations, including the Free Media Movement, have signed a statement condemning the pressure being brought to bear on the media by the armed forces, in particular against the Tamil daily Thinakural. The Tamil Tigers and the paramilitaries have also been urged to “respect the right to information” and to halt attacks against journalists.
Soldiers on 24 April, prevented photographers from entering a Colombo hospital in which wounded soldiers were being treated.