SL Govt attempts to reintroduce “Criminal Defamation Law” – FMM

[TamilNet, Thursday, 28 June 2007, 12:15 GMT]
Free Media Movement, a Colombo-based media rights watchdog, accused the Sri Lanka Government of attempting to bring back the Criminal Defamation Law which had been “used extensively in the past in order to silence critical reportage and to persecute editors and journalists.” The FMM in a press release Wednesday said that it “has credible evidence that on behalf of the president an emergency cabinet paper was submitted to the cabinet meeting held on 27th June 2007 in this regard. It was put on hold as three ministers opposed the reintroduction of the criminal defamation.”

The Criminal Defamation Law was repealed by the UNP government in June 2002 as a result of campaigns by national as well as international media and press freedom organisations.

Full text of the press release follows:

Free Media Movement is shocked and dismayed by the attempts by present government to bring back the criminal defamation law, which was repealed by the UNP government in June 2002 as a result of campaigns by national as well as international media and press freedom organisations. FMM has credible evidence that on behalf of the president an emergency cabinet paper was submitted to the cabinet meeting held on 27th June 2007 in this regard. It was put on hold as three ministers opposed the reintroduction of the criminal defamation.

Criminal defamation had been used extensively in the past in order to silence critical reportage and to persecute editors and journalists. For example, five cases were filed in the High Court of Colombo against Victor Ivan, the editor of the Ravaya newspaper, at the beginning of 2002. Four other mainstream newspaper editors were also facing criminal defamation charges.

Further, criminal defamation had been used to suppress corruption investigative journalism and independent media institutions. Penal provisions of the law were being used by state for partisan purposes and to restrict information flow to the public. The repeal of the law (act no 12, June 2002) was supported by all political parties represented in the government and unanimously passed.

This attempt to reintroduce criminal defamation by the government clearly shows the hollowness of its promises to protect freedom of expression rights in Sri Lanka.

Free Media Movement urge national and international media and press freedom organisations to rally round to defeat any attempts to bring back this anti media law in Sri Lanka by present rulers. FMM would like to reiterate that If it is reintroduced it will be a major set back for the media freedom in Sri Lanka.

 

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