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Sri Lanka 12 June 2008

Officials pressured local press to tone down criticism during EU delegation visit

Reporters Without Borders condemns the pressure that the government reportedly put on the owners and editors of several independent dailies, including The Nation and The Daily Mirror, to dissuade them from publishing critical or embarrassing articles during a visit by a European Commission trade delegation from 9 to 11 June.

"The government is mistaken if it thinks it can improve relations with the EU by using threats to silence the independent press," the press freedom organisation said. "Journalists’ organisations are vigilant and will continue to condemn a policy of harassment that makes it harder and harder for them to cover the human rights situation."

Reporters Without Borders added: "The European delegation did raise the issue of human rights during its visit, but we urge the European Commission to firmly condemn this latest case of harassment of the media, which was directly linked to the delegation’s visit."

Speaking on condition of anonymity, journalists working for several newspapers told Reporters Without Borders that, during the week prior to the EU visit, their managers and editors ordered them to limit the number of stories that would be embarrassing for the government. The officials who pressured their management had threatened reprisals, including economic reprisals, they said.

This harassment coincided with defence ministry accusations of "treason" against journalists who cover military affairs, and the abduction and beating of one of The Nation’s defence reporters in Colombo.

Reporters Without Borders also calls for the immediate release of Tamil journalist J. S. Tissanayagam, the editor of the news website and a contributor to the Sunday Times newspaper, after the defence ministry extended his detention for another three months on 6 June and the anti-terrorist police refused to bring him before a judge. Tissanayagam was arrested on 7 March in Colombo, just a few weeks after creating Outreachlk with funding from FLICT, an NGO supported by the German development agency GTZ.

Contacted by Reporters Without Borders, his wife appealed to the authorities not to hold him any longer without trial. "We are just asking for his rights as a citizen to be respected," she said.

V. Jasikaran, a Tamil writer and owner of a printing press, is also being held by the anti-terrorist police in the same case.

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