11/26/2007, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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“Continuing trend” towards stifling free media

by Melani Manel Perera
Following an arson attack against the offices of Leader publications, which puts out papers critical of the government, Bishop Duleep De Chickera releases special communiqué. He appeals to all religious leaders not to remain silent and defends freedom of expression as necessary for the well-being of democracy.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – “The continuing trend to silence independent media has already reached dangerous proportions,” said Duleep De Chickera, Anglican bishop of Colombo, following the latest arson attack on November 21 against the offices of Leaders Publications which publishes English-language papers like Sunday Leader and Morning Leader as well as Sinhala-paper Irudina Sinhala.

“The well planned and executed arson attack on the Sunday Leader Press came as a shock to the nation. This must be seen as yet another calculated attempt in a trend to stifle the free media of this country,” said Bishop De Chickera.

A media that can freely voice dissent, advocate freedom of expression and the right to information and engage in a discourse of critique, is indispensable for the well-being of a democratic and civilised nation at all times,” he added. “It is absolutely crucial in times of violence, war, social suspicion and instability.”

Furthermore, he condemns the atmosphere of “impunity” in which these “brazen criminal acts” can take place.

For Bishop De Chickera all religious leaders have a responsibility to speak out against the situation.

I consequently call upon all responsible religious bodies and groups of Sri Lankans to condemn this act and call for a free investigation and indictment of the perpetrators.”

For his part President Mahinda Rajapakse has pledged a quick investigation into the events of November 21.

In the last two years as the conflict between rebels and the army escalated in the northern and eastern parts of the country, journalists and people working in Sri Lanka’s media have been the object of violence, including abductions, disappearances and death threats.

The three papers published by Leader Publications have often criticised Rajapakse’s administration for suppressing democratic rights and favouring private interests and the war effort.

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