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Sri Lankan journalism workshops ordered to close

More evidence of government crackdown on media

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

ucanews.com reporter, Colombo

Published: June 12, 2014 08:56 AM GMT

Updated: June 11, 2014 10:37 PM GMT

Sri Lankan journalism workshops ordered to close

Protesters demonstrate in front of Goldie Sands Hotel in Negambo, where a training workshop was shut by the military (picture: TISL)

Fears that the Sri Lankan government is widening a crackdown on media have intensified after a series of workshops geared towards training ethnic Tamil journalists were ordered to close by the Defense Ministry.

The first workshop, organized by watchdog Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL) on May 22, had focused on corruption investigations. Media organizations said the Defense Ministry had objected to it, with the hotel management admitting that it had received a phone call from the Defense Ministry ordering it to cancel the workshop. Two prior workshops for Sinhalese journalists had gone ahead undisturbed.

“This hotel is owned by a politician and I phoned him to inquire about this, and he said that he got an instruction from the Ministry of Defense,” said S Ranugge, Executive Director of TISL.

A subsequent attempt at the weekend to hold the workshop at another hotel in Colombo was thwarted after around 100 protesters, among them military personnel, gathered outside holding banners.

“Protesters accused TISL of supporting terrorists and training people to give evidence against Sri Lanka in an international investigation by the UN,” said Ranugge.

“We feel there is someone behind this who is misleading the protesters, because the protesters didn’t ask our staff what we were doing there, or the purpose of conducting the workshop.”

A third attempt at conducting the workshop in another hotel was also aborted after the hotel management ordered them to leave one hour after arriving.

“Even during the war the government didn’t threaten the media like this, but nowadays it has increased,” said Sunil Jayasekara, Secretary of the Free Media Movement.

He said that only police could have instructed the protesters to gather at the hotel and force the workshop to finish.

Upul Jayasuriya, President of the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, said that on average 25 journalists flee the country every year, while 19 murders of journalists since 1992 remain unsolved.

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