Sri Lanka’s new government which came to power promising media freedom, has revived a move to censor news web sites, a popular form of dissent that significantly contributed to the downfall of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
The Ministry of Parliamentary Reforms and Mass Media took out an advertisement in the state-run Daily News today warning websites that they must register before the end of this month or will be considered “unlawful.”
Former government of Mahinda Rajapaksa slapped restrictions on news websites which had become the most effective medium of dissent during his decade in power. However, there is no law in Sri Lanka to implement such a registration.
The ministry in its latest advertisement did not say under what law it required websites to register.
However, a purported “Application for Registration of News Casting Web sites” demanded to know the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all contributors.
The latest move follows the government’s frayed relations with the media with Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella using unprintable words against reporters and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe using derogatory language to describe media personnel loyal to the Rajapaksa regime.
In 2012, police raided the shared offices of two news websites, Sri Lanka Mirror and Lanka X News, in a move that triggered a fundamental rights case as well as international condemnation of the Rajapaksa regime.
It is ironic that it was Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who as the then head of the UNP media unit, petitioned the Supreme Court challenging the Criminal Investigations Department action to raid the Lanka X news website for not obtaining a “registration” from the media ministry.
In that landmark case, the then chief justice Shriani Bandaranayake declared that the highest court had at no time said it was necessary for website to be registered with the media ministry. She made the clarification when the CID argued that they obtained a search warrant on the basis that the website was functioning illegally.
The then chief justice issued strictures on the CID for obtaining a warrant by misrepresenting facts. Interestingly, the three judge bench which heard that case included K. Sripavan who is the current Chief Justice. (COLOMBO, March 2, 2016)