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 SAFMA journalists condemn Justice Minister’s threats to lawyer Lakshan Dias

Public Statement by South Asian Free Media Association – Sri Lanka Chapter .

The Sri Lanka Chapter of the South Asian Free Media Association (SAFMA-SL) strongly condemns the recent statements by Justice & Buddhism Affairs Minister Vijedasa Rajapaksa threatening to deny the license of professional practice of Attorney Lakshan Dias for raising issues of persecution of religious communities.

Mr. Lakshan Dias, a leading human rights activist and lawyer specialising in the defence of persecuted communities, has a record of credibly raising such issues with supportive facts – facts that have won him litigation. His unstinting legal practice of defending victims of religious and other social rights violations has given him a reputation in this country and internationally, following in the footsteps of other internationally acclaimed Sri Lankan lawyers.

As a body of journalists dedicated to social justice, SAFMA Sri Lanka is shocked that the Minister has made this threat against a lawyer directly in connection with that lawyer’s professional defence of religious rights which are guaranteed by the freedom of expression bestowed by the Constitution. The Justice & Buddhism Affairs Minister has made this threat publicly and, further, demanded that lawyer to apologise “in 24 hours”, in a situation where the country is experiencing on-going hostile and violent acts against religious communities.

All Sri Lankans know that religions in our country have experienced persecution at various moments throughout our history. Both the Buddha Sasana and the Vedic denominations have suffered persecution since ancient times, including the colonial era. In recent times the Islamic Umma and Christian Church have experienced persecution.

Indeed, the whole country is aware of the public campaigns of hostility against Christianity and Islam that began in recent decades and continues to this day. The news media has responsibly reported these inflammatory campaigns and the resulting violence.

As socially committed journalists, the members of SAFMA-SL firmly uphold the freedom to practice religion and philosophies as an inalienable part of the larger freedom of expression and thought.

Rather than further inquire into the concerns raised by this accomplished and respected lawyer, the Justice Minister has chosen to attack him for raising these very issues. In doing so, SAFMA Sri Lanka is concerned that the Minister is hindering and undermining the freedom of religion and, consequently, the freedom of thought and expression.

As news media professionals who have reported the on-going religious persecution over decades, we call on the Minister to withdraw his threats and, instead, actively address this on-going situation of religious conflict and oppression.

21 – 06 – 2017


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