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Concerns over Democracy, Rule of Law and Human Rights in the Northern Province – Friday Forum

PRESS RELEASE/9th August 2011
Weeks after local government elections in Jaffna we remain concerned about the state of democracy, protection of human rights, and the political polarisation that troubles the North in particular and the entire country in general. 

We unequivocally condemn the brutal assault on Gnanasundaram Kuhanathan, news editor of the Tamil-language daily Uthayan on Friday, July 29th evening.  The violence meted out to Mr. Kuhanathan by two men wielding iron bars leading to severe injuries is reflective of impunity and the climate of fear that continues to undermine post-war reconciliation in the North.  We welcome the IGP’s prompt submission of a report to the President as requested but unless this leads to prompt justice we fear that this has become a routine that inspires little confidence that the rule of law prevails.

This most recent attack on Mr. Kuhanathan has to be seen as a continuation of the numerous attacks on journalists during the war and periodic attacks after the war.  Indeed, this is not the first time journalists from Uthayan have been targeted.  In May 2006, two employees of Uthayan were shot dead and Mr. Kuhanathan himself narrowly escaped, in a most brutal attack by an armed gang.  Those attacks as with so many other attacks on journalists over a long period have contributed to a culture of impunity.  Attacks on journalists are not only serious human rights violations they also constrain responses to the violence in the public sphere through the self-censorship of journalists and the broader silencing of dissent.

Even if we differ with the editorial line and the kind of journalism of newspapers we must defend their freedom of expression. Need we remind that protection of journalists is of fundamental importance to sustain democracy?   Indeed, the local government elections as with any elections are only one aspect of democratisation.  Debates in the media and other public forums, the demilitarization of state and society and people’s empowerment and their sense of participation in the broader political process are important facets of a democratic society. Assaults on such democratic entitlements, especially in the post-war context, can only bode ill for national reconciliation and the future political stability of the country.

Finally, not just in terms of the climate of fear, but also as reflective from the local government elections, there seems to be a polarization of politics from the very different election results and the differing political fortunes of the government in the North compared to South.  Such polarization is a further reason for urgent movement on a credible political process to find a constitutional political settlement that will effectively address the genuine grievances of the various minority communities in Sri Lanka.  Such a credible political process, as with lifting the state of emergency, demilitarization and protection of human rights including those of journalists are requirements for a democratic and pluralistic post-war future in the country.

Jayantha Dhanapala                                                         
On behalf of Friday Forum, the Group of Concerned Citizens

Mr. Jayantha Dhanapala, Rt. Reverend Duleep de Chickera, Professor Arjuna Aluwihare, Professor Savitri Goonesekere, Mr. Ahilan Kadirgamar, Mr. Lanka Nesiah,  Mr. J.C. Weliamuna, Dr. A. C. Visvalingam,        Dr. Jayampathy Wickramaratne,  Dr. Camena Gunaratne,  Dr. Deepika Udagama,  Ms. Sithie Tiruchelvam,  Ms. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Ms, Dhamaris Wickramasekera, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Mr.Prashan de Visser,  Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Mr. Daneshan Casie Chetty, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne,
The Friday Forum, 2, Greenlands Avenue, Colombo 5, Sri Lanka
E-Mail; [email protected]     Telephone; 0773634444   Fax; 2504181


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