a. Freedom of Speech and Press – Internet Freedom’ Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
b.Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association – Freedom of Assembly; Freedom of Association
c. Freedom of Religion
Freedom of Speech and Press
On November 27, the CID detained Sanjeewa Samarasinghe, journalist and media secretary for Democratic National Alliance leader and former army commander Sarath Fonseka. The CID also searched Samarasinghe’s residence. The CID questioned him for more than 12 hours and released him the following day. There were no charges filed against Samarasinghe.
There was no legal progress regarding the July 2011 attack on Uthayan news editor Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan.
There was no progress in the January 2011 firebombing of the premises of pro-opposition news Web site Lanka-e-news. While numerous observers implicated government agents in the attack, state media suggested that the staff of Lanka-e-news was responsible.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Police, under the authority of the Ministry of Defense, reportedly maintained a special unit to monitor and control all references in the media to members of the Rajapaksa family. Official pressure reportedly was regularly exerted through orders to government and private firms to cease advertising in critical newspapers and television stations and advertise in progovernment outlets. Newspapers critical of the government faced difficulty obtaining credit from major banks, all of which the state owns or has interest through pension schemes and other investments. While the media could operate freely, independent and opposition media practiced self-censorship. Media freedom suffered from severe government pressure throughout the island, and most journalists practiced self-censorship, particularly on matters of accountability, human rights, and criticism of government officials, particularly in regards to the president and his family.
Libel Laws/National Security: In 2009 the government officially reactivated the Press Council Act of 1973. This act, which includes power to impose punitive measures including fines and lengthy prison terms, proscribes the publishing of articles that discuss internal communications of the government, decisions of the cabinet, matters relating to the military that could affect national security, and details of economic policy that could lead to artificial shortages or speculative price increases. Libel suits were frequently used against politicians and journalists.
On November 22, the Mount Lavinia District Court ordered the Leader Publications and Sunday Leader editor to pay Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa Rs. 250 million (almost $2 million) for defamation. The court determined the Sunday Leader published false and malicious articles defaming the defense secretary and issued a permanent injunction preventing further defamation.
Nongovernmental Impact: Progovernment paramilitary groups and gangs affiliated with political parties inhibited freedom of expression, particularly in the north. Members of the EPDP reportedly were involved in harassment and intimidation of journalists in Jaffna.
The government restricted access to the Internet, including Web sites it deemed pornographic as well as Web sites it deemed critical of the government.
On June 29, the CID raided the offices of independent news Web site Srilankamirror and official opposition UNP news Web site Srilankaxnews. During the raid CID officers arrested eight journalists for writing negatively about the government and president and for allegedly publishing false information. The CID entered with a warrant under existing laws, including penal code 120, which permits imprisonment for “attempts to excite feelings of disaffection to the President or to the Government…or attempts to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the People of Sri Lanka.” The cases against the journalists were suspended pending further evidence. The CID continued to hold the Web sites’ computers that were seized in November. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear a fundamental rights case filed by journalists from the Sri Lanka Mirror in February 2013.
The government blocked Internet access to several Tamil news Web sites, including the pro-LTTE TamilNet. Since 2011 the Ministry of Mass Media and Information has required all Web sites carrying local news to register with the government. The ministry blocked access based on complaints about material published by certain Web sites that was “injurious to the image of the country, the head of the state, ministers, senior public officials, and other important persons.” Thereafter, the ministry blocked five Web sites; four of these remained blocked at the end of the year, with five additional sites also blocked. In addition the government blocked various other news Web sites throughout the year. On May 16, a three-member bench, including the chief justice, dismissed a fundamental rights case filed against the blocking of Web sites.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were allegations that university officials prevented professors from criticizing government officials. Some academics noted that the environment of intimidation led to self-censorship.
There were continued concerns of military encroachment into universities. For example, in September 2011 a group of academics issued a statement protesting a decision by the Higher Education Ministry to hand over the security of universities to Rakna Arakshaka Lanka Ltd, a government-owned commercial security venture established under the Ministry of Defense and under the direct supervision of the defense secretary. Observers also expressed concerns regarding a mandatory leadership training program held in army camps on December 27 for students who qualified to enter universities.
On November 28, Jaffna University students clashed with security forces during student demonstrations on campus. The students were demonstrating in response to the military’s entry into Jaffna University dormitories a day earlier to discourage commemoration of “Heroes Day,” the unofficial day of remembrance for the LTTE. During the demonstration security forces, including both the police and army, charged at the students with batons and beat some of them. Twenty students were reportedly injured in the clashes, with seven needing hospital treatment.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
Freedom of Assembly
The law provides for freedom of assembly, but the government did not respect this right in practice, and some restrictions existed. The government required that army representatives be present at public assemblies in the north. There were a number of cases in which security forces restricted participation in demonstrations.
There were informal barriers to assembly on a number of occasions. For example, on January 25, a protest rally by media groups to mark deaths and disappearances of journalists was obstructed by protesters reportedly transported with government support to block the media demonstration. On February 15, police killed fisherman Anthony Fernando and injured several others when police officers tried to disperse a protest staged by the fishermen against a hike in fuel prices. On February 19, the CID arrested a police officer for the killing as well as an assistant superintendent of police who ordered the shots be fired.
On May 10, the Supreme Court granted leave to proceed with petitions filed by 51 Tamils arrested in an August 2011, when police arrested 102 protesters demonstrating against a series of attacks on women. Police assaulted many of those arrested following an attack on an army detachment in which two military vehicles were damaged. The Supreme Court was scheduled to hear the case in March 2013.
Freedom of Association
The law provides for freedom of association, but the government did not always respect this right in practice. Some restrictions existed, such as those under the PTA. The government often used informants to target individuals for arrests and interrogation based on their association.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/j/drl/irf/rpt .