[Opposition election offcie after an attack by pro-Government gang]
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expresses its concern over an escalation of violence ahead of the Sri Lankan presidential election today and reiterates its call to ensure media freedom and the safety of journalists during and after the election.
Today, Sri Lanka votes for a new president with the incumbent president, Mahinda Rajapaksha, seeking a third-term in the office after calling a snap election in November two years ahead of schedule. Maithripala Sirisena has been named as the main opposition contender and has the support of the main opposition party, as well as the major parties representing the country’s ethnic Tamil and Muslim minorities.
The IFJ has received reports of a surge of election-related violence in the build-up to the election; as well as reports of alleged misuse of state-owned media. Amid other reports that state media is openly calling people to vote for President Rajapaksa, the country’s election commissioner has issued warnings against several state media outlets to desist from broadcasting election “propaganda”.
An election violence monitoring report, by the Centre for Monitoring Election Violence (CMEV) stated that as of January 6, there were at least 237 “major incidents” and 183 “minor incidents’ during the campaigning period, including dozens of cases of assaults, intimidation or damage to property. Of those attacks, at least 22 included a firearm. The CMEV also said there was “unparalleled misuse of state resources and media” by the ruling party.
Reports suggest troops have been deployed to the northern Tamil-dominated Wanni region and former warzone ahead of today’s election today – a move that would contravene election laws in Sri Lanka. Police are responsible for monitoring voting centres.
With a history of violence and civil unrest in the country’s elections, including actions against the media, the IFJ is urging the government and the Department of Elections to deploy all possible measures to ensure media freedom and the safety of journalists.
The IFJ Asia-Pacific office said: “The world is watching Sri Lanka and we call on government to respect freedom of expression and the right of the media to present all voices which is so critical to the democratic process of the country.”
The IFJ said Sri Lankan authorities have a responsibility to ensure that all people in Sri Lanka are able to exercise their right to political participation and freedom of expression without intimidation, threats or violence.
Nearly 15 million people are eligible to vote on Thursday to elect a president for a six-year term. The poll is expected to be a close contest.