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Sri Lanka: theindependent.lk complaints to HRC over blockade

After the complaint was made
Editor of theindependent.lk website, Subhash Jayawardhana, lodged a complaint with the Human Rights Commission today (29) that the website has been blocked from access from all local viewers by all local internet service providing companies.
He says in the complaint that it is a violation of fundamental rights granted by 14(1)(a) of the constitution with regard to freedom of expression, and also the right to engage in a profession to one’s liking and the freedom from unlawful arrest.

UNP’s united leadership council chairman Karu Jayasuriya, who participated at the handover of the petition, said theindependent.lk was the eighth website to be blocked by the government which is increasingly denying the people’s right of access to information.
It is a violation of the commonwealth charter which gives special place to the freedom of expression and the right of access to information, in the very same country which has the chair of the Commonwealth, he said.
Also present on the occasion were UNP general secretary Tissa Attanayake, MP Mangala Samaraweera, Frontline Socialist Party’s propaganda secretary Pubudu Jayagoda, United Socialist Front’s leader Sirithunga Jayasuriya, owner of the website Diana Gamage and representatives of civil society and media organizations.

The petition
The Petition handed over to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka by Subhash Jayawardhana, editor in chief of “The Independent.lk”
Name: Subhash Weerathunga Jayawardhana, Editor-in-chief, “theindependent.lk” website
Address: No.820, Kotte Road, Ethul Kotte, Kotte.
1. Name: Lalith Weerathunga, Chairman, Telecommunications Regulations Commission
Address: No.276, Elwitigala Rd, Colombo 8.
2. Name: Anusha Palpita, Director General, Telecommunications Regulations Commission
Address: No.276, Elwitigala Rd, Colombo 8.
3. Name: Keheliya Rambukwella, Minister of Mass Media and Information
Address: No.163, Kirulapana Ave, Polhengoda, Colombo 5
4. Name:     Charitha Herath, Secretary, Ministry of mass media and information.
Address: No.163, Kirulapana Ave, Polhengoda, Colombo 5
5. Name: Nimal Welgama, Chairman, Sri Lanka Telecom
Address: TP.503, Lotus Rd, Colombo 1.
6. Name: Lalith De Silva, Chief Executive Officer, Sri Lanka Telecom
Address: TP.503, Lotus Rd, Colombo 1.
7. Name: Kapila Chandrasena, CEO, Mobitel (pvt) Ltd
Address:  No. 108, W.A.Ramanayake Rd, Colombo 2
8. Name: Dr. Hans Wijesooriya, Director and CEO, Dialog Asiata Group of Companies
Address: No.475, Union Place, Colombo 2.
9. Name: Wale Salamon, CEO, Eisalat Lanka (pvt) Ltd
Address: No 109, Galle Road, Colombo.
10. Name: Thirukumar Nadeson, CEO, Hutchison Telecommunications Lanka (pvt) Ltd
Address: No.234, Galle Rd, Colombo 4
11. Name: Suren Gunawardhana, CEO, Bharathi Airtel Lanka (pvt) Ltd
Address: 10, 11, Western Tower, World Trade Center, Colombo 1
The Independent.lk (www.theindependent.lk) website where I, Subhash Weerathunga Jayawardhana (NIC: 731500150 V), work as the editor-in-chief, has been blocked from access from all local viewers by all local internet service providing companies since the 20th May 2014.
Our website which is being daily updated by all three languages (Sinhala, English and Tamil) is an independent media institution maintained by “Independent Media Networks (pvt) Ltd.”
Due to this unwarned and highly irregular blockade made upon our website has put all our viewers, as well as the journalists who work in our institute, in a difficult position.
Our website is very keen on news and other current socio-economic and political issues that swirl around both locally and internationally, and during our course of action, we have delivered such information which we believe to be suitable for intellectual discussion.
By maintaining this website, we enjoyed the Freedom of Expression granted to all the citizens in the country under Section 14 (1) (a) of the Constitution of Sri Lanka, inside all the other necessary legal limitations.
But as our website has now been blocked from viewing, we believe that our constitutional rights as well as the right of the General Public to receive information, has been clearly violated.
Further, this uninformed and unwarned blockade imposed upon our website gives us a hint that our right of having a point of view and expressing it has clearly been threatened.
We have reasons to suspect that this sudden move taken by these communications companies to block 8 news websites including us, may have been backed by some influence or an order that has come from a certain political authority or from state agents.
Accordingly, when considered about the previous experiences on the suppression of media freedom in Sri Lanka, we would like to point out that this current scenario could even have hazardous effects on our very lives.
Hence we are making this complain to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka regarding this matter in order to defend the fundamental human rights of us journalists and of the citizens in this country as well.
I, who is currently holding the post of Editor-in-Chief of the “The Independent” website, an experienced journalist who have served in many newspapers as a journalist since 1993 and in my career I have been subjected to questioning by the Criminal Investigations Department on many occasions regarding my professional media affairs.
I worked as the News editor of the “Sri Lanka X news” website from May 2012 and on the 29th June that year, the CID raided our website office and arrested me and Mr. Siddhick Kariyappar, who was the Tamil Editor of the website.
At that time journalists and the cleaning lady of the “Sri Lanka Mirror” website office, which had been established at our office premises, were also taken in to custody.
Further 9 computers along with some important documents were also taken in to CID custody.
Although the cleaning lady was released later that day, all the 8 journalists were released on bail the following day after being presented at the Court.
We were arrested under the accusation violating ss115, 118 and 120 of the Penal Code.
However, at that time the S.118 of the Penal Code had been repealed by S.2 of the Amendments Act no 12 of 2002.
Hence the journalists of “Sri Lanka Mirror” and “Lanka X news” who were arrested were released on bail by Colombo additional magistrate Mr. Prasanna Alwis on the 18th September 2013 ordering them to appear before Court in case of a notice.
After this unlawful arrest made by the CID and due to various other undue influences that followed, we were forced to terminate the work of our website.
At the moment the Petitions made by us at the Supreme Court with regards to the violation of Fundamental Rights granted by ss13(1), 14(1)(a) and 14(1)(g) of the constitution (Freedom of Expression, Right to engage in a profession to one’s liking and the freedom from unlawful arrest) are still being heard.
Afterwards, on the 9th January 2013, I joined the freshly started “The Independent” website as the Founding Editor.
On March that year, according to a notification issued by the Ministry of Mass Media and Information regarding the registration of websites, we handed over the application to register our website at the Ministry.
Later in October 2013, the Ministry called us for an interview regarding the registration of the website. Although the interview board, which consisted of an additional secretary of the Ministry and his fellow officials, was satisfied with our qualifications and verbally recommended us for the registration and informed us that they would inform us about a date to pay the registration fees, so far no such notification has been done since then.
 We always tried to maintain our website in line with the accepted media ethics and also the legal framework of Sri Lanka and we took steps to conduct our work according to the accepted media ethics system accepted by the Professional Web journalists Association, where we hold membership.
There were numerous occasions where we had allowed those who felt offended by any publication made by our website, to say their part of the story.
But in this case, we believe that instead of taking the high road, someone has taken a darker step in blocking the website and we believe that this is also a violation of the Taxpaying public in the country to receive information about who their Govt is run with their tax money.  Hence we hope that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka would intervene and provide us with a fair conclusion.

Yours sincerely,

Subhash Jayawardhana
The Independent


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