COLOMBO (AFP) — A leading media rights group on Friday urged Sri Lanka’s government to lift a ban on independent reporting from the island’s war-torn north.
Paris-based Reporters without Borders (RSF) appealed to President Mahinda Rajapakse to allow both local and foreign journalists to freely report on the fighting against the Tamil Tiger rebels.
The group also asked the government to bring an end to violent attacks against members of the independent Sri Lankan press.
“Like the Israeli army in Gaza, the authorities in Colombo have decided to prevent media and humanitarian organisations from working freely,” RSF said in a statement.
There is no official censorship in Sri Lanka, but authorities do not allow journalists into the troubled north of the island except on a few guided tours organised by the military.
Government officials say this is for security reasons.
“Amid reports of a humanitarian tragedy and hundreds of civilian victims, it is deplorable that the Sri Lankan authorities are refusing to let the press operate freely,” RSF said.
“It is also counter-productive, as it can fuel the wildest rumours.”
RSF noted that since the army began its offensive in 2007, the press has been banned from visiting the north, including camps housing displaced Tamil civilians.
The statement came as the UN human rights chief, Nai Pillay, expressed alarm at the fate of as many as 250,000 people trapped in the fighting in northern Sri Lanka.
“It is the government’s duty to provide safety to all Sri Lanka’s citizens, whatever their ethnic origin or political views,” Pillay said.
“That means not only protecting civilians during military operations in the north, but also ensuring space for journalists and human rights defenders to seek out the truth and expose abuses.”