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Sri Lanka to clamp down on NGO activities

Press conferences, journalism training and workshops face axe

Sri Lanka to clamp down on NGO activities

Demonstrators gather for a protest in Colombo in this file photo. Civil society groups fear that a recent announcement curtailing activities by NGOs violates constitutional rights to freedom of assembly and speech. reporter, Colombo
Sri Lanka

July 9, 2014

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The Sri Lankan government this week warned civil society groups not to engage in activities outside their mandate, specifically citing press conferences, journalism training and workshops as activities to avoid.

Civil society groups strongly condemned the announcement, saying it was unconstitutional and violated basic rights of freedom of speech and expression.

There was no statement from the government on how the announcement would be enforced and what penalties would be faced by violators. But a defense ministry spokesman said the announcement was merely a reminder of exisiting regulations.

“This is not a strengthening of regulations,” said Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya.

But Herman Kumara, head of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, said the announcement “intentionally violated the country's constitution”.

“All these actions prove that Sri Lanka has no space for democracy and rule of law,” he said.

He added that activist groups plan to protest against the government announcement.

Sunil Jayasekara, convener of the Free Media Movement, said that "the government needs to discourage the training of investigative journalism so that they cannot expose the corruption of the government.”

Wanigasooriya said there were 1,416 NGOs registered in Sri Lanka. He said the government was trying to make sure the organizations' activities did not exceed its mandate.

“The organizations should not go beyond their objectives and missions as outlined by them at registration,” he said.

“We do not want to struggle with NGOs and they do a great service in the country,” he said.

In June, the watchdog group Transparency International organized a workshop on investigative journalism for ethnic Tamil journalists, which was disrupted by a mob and eventually cancelled.

The US State Department on Wednesday said the order “undermines Sri Lanka's longstanding and proud democratic traditions, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”

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