Activists demand a Right to Information Bill in Sri Lanka
Bill still not enacted despite calls from all sides
A man examines a placard advertising a petition campaign to pass A Right of Information Bill in Colombo on Monday
Rights activists, opposition parliamentarians and journalists signed a public petition in Colombo on Monday, calling for the country to institute a Right to Information Bill.
The signing was part of an event organized by the Action Committee for Media Freedom to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
Speaking for the Action Committee for Media Freedom, Dharmasiri Lankapeli said that people should have the right to obtain details of any government-run development project, the cost of the project and how the money was allocated and spent.
“This is the only country in South Asia which does not have this Act,” he said.
Calling on intellectuals, media organizations, rights groups, trade unions, parliamentarians and religious leaders to support the petition, he declared the movement’s intention to make a house-to-house drive, calling on people and collecting signatures.
Karu Jayasuriya, member of the opposition United National Party added: “The government tries to hide bribery and corruption and thinks people should not have the right to information.”
It was Jayasuriya who presented a private member’s motion to enact a Right to Information Bill in 2011, but it was defeated by a margin of 32 to 99.
However, the need for such a law is also one of the recommendations of the government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, published in 2011.
"Freedom of expression and the right to information, which are universally regarded as basic human rights, play a pivotal role in the country,” said the government report.
In the 2013 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, the country ranked 162nd out of 179 countries.
According to Free Media Movement, there have been 138 recorded attacks on journalists and media institutions during the past decade.
“The safety of journalists and sustenance of the media institutions is in jeopardy,” Upul Jayasuriya, president of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, said on Monday.
Father M Sakthivel, a Catholic activist, told the gathering that the media are now actively engaged in self-censorship for fear of antagonizing those in positions of power.
“The government of Sri Lanka continually refuse a Right to Information Bill,” he said. “This violates the democratic right of the people.
“Relatives of the disappeared and abducted don’t have the right to ask questions regarding their missing ones’ whereabouts,” he added. “If a Right to Information Bill existed, people [would] have an opportunity to get the information from the authorities.”
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