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Groups urge Sri Lanka to implement media reforms

Government vows to investigate past journalist killings

Groups urge Sri Lanka to implement media reforms

Sandhya Eknaligoda (C), wife of missing Sri Lankan cartoonist Prageeth Eknelygoda, holds a placard bearing his image outside the United Nations offices in Colombo on February 21, 2013. Eknaligoda urged UN intervention to locate her husband, missing since 2010. (AFP PHOTO/ Ishara S KODIKARA)

Media and civil society groups on Thursday urged the Sri Lankan government to implement media reforms as part of sweeping political and legislative changes taking place in the island nation.

The groups, including the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada, Open Society Foundation, South Asian Media Solidarity Network, UNESCO and Sri Lanka Press Institute, gave cautious praise to the government for improving press freedom since President Maithripala Sirisena unseated long-time strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa in January elections, but said journalists still lived in fear.

Toby Mendel, executive director of the Centre for Law and Democracy in Canada, said that there had been positive changes such as the unblocking of websites.

However, Mendel told ucanews.com: “Journalists we met in Jaffna still feel vulnerable; they feel that they are monitored by the military intelligence.”

“Still they do not enjoy full freedom and no proper inquires into their past attacks,” he said. “It is important to appoint an independent commission of inquiry with adequate powers to investigate past killings, disappearances [and] threats to media workers.”

Those responsible for such attacks must be prosecuted and appropriate compensation paid to the victims and their families, he added.

Sandhya Ekneligoda, the wife of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda, who disappeared in 2010, said that she is still seeking justice regarding his case.

“I appealed to the former government, UN and the international community to know the whereabouts of my husband but still didn't get any response,” she said.

“It is difficult to survive and look after my children without proper income,” Ekneligoda said, adding that she survives on what she can earn selling lunch packets. “It is not only me, but also other wives of disappeared face many hardships.”

According to the Free Media Movement, there have been 138 recorded attacks on journalists and media institutions during the past decade in Sri Lanka. About fifty journalists have been forced to flee the country during the last 26 years, while more than 80 journalists, staff or owners of media organizations have been murdered. 

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The government vowed Thursday to investigate journalist killings and abductions.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Thursday signed a public declaration on media development, saying “we hereby commit to create free pluralistic and diverse media achievement”.

“During the earlier regime, media was suppressed and media organizations were attacked, some of the journalists left the country, some have [been] killed like Lasantha Wickrematunge and some have disappeared like Prageeth Eknaligoda,” he observed.

The prime minister said he would "form an independent committee to investigate past killings and disappearances of journalists".

Wickrematunge, a co-founder of founder of The Sunday Leader and Leader Publications, was shot dead in a broad day light in 2009 on a public highway, a few hundred meters from a security checkpoint.

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