Ranil criticises gagging of press

[TamilNet, Thursday, 25 May 2000, 14:44 GMT]
Sri Lanka's opposition leader Mr.Ranil Wickremesinghe Thursday lambasted the government in Parliament for suppressing the freedom of expression. He pointed out that the appeal procedure available to the papers that have been shut down by the Sri Lankan government is specious. He called on the government to immediately withdraw the regulation that gives sweeping powers to the government to shut down papers and printing presses.

The following is the full text of his speech (as released by the United National Party headquarters):

"During the last Emergency Debate, UNP took a decision to abstain from voting on the basis that the Government would consider amending regulations 8,9,12,14, 25, 26,33, 41, 44 (1) especially regulation 14.

Ranil WickramasingheThe Government has so far made no change and instead used the draconian provision of regulation 14 to seal 3 news papers of which two are national and one regional, namely Sunday Leader, Irida Peramuna and Udayan respectively.

The UNP as well as other members belonging to both sides of the House have voiced their opposition to these draconian provisions. At a time of national crises the Government should act to bring diverse opinion together.

On the contrary, the Government is taking extreme measures to suppress views opposed to the Government, thereby making a mockery of its commitment that the emergency regulations will not encroach on the day today political life.

The reasons given by the Competent Authority does not show that the news papers have been a threat to the territorial integrity or the democratic process. Nor have they promoted communal disharmony.

The national newspaper Irida Peramuna has been banned without any reasons been (sic) given. This smacks of political victimization especially in the context that this news paper and the Sunday Leader has (sic) been critical of the President and the Government and has (sic) raised serious governance issues in the process.

The Udayan has not been available in Colombo for our scrutiny. Neither has the Competent Authority referred to any specific instance. The Media Release is in general terms.

The appeal procedure available to these victims is an appeal to an advisory committee appointed by the President. This empty remedy does not generate any public confidence because the chairman if the advisory committee is a well known supporter of the Peoples Alliance and Chairman of a public corporation.

Furthermore he is appearing for the president in an ongoing prosecutions for alleged criminal defamation against editors of national newspapers, including the editor in chief of the sunday leader newspaper.

It is also difficult to repose confidence in the other members of the committee for similar reasons. What would instill confidence would be to lift the ban immediately and follow available procedure of prosecuting any alleged offender before the courts of law.

The political objectives and mala fides of the ban is further underscored by the imposition of the ban for a period as long as six months until November 21 which will be in affect after the conclusion of Parliamentary Election 2000.

This can only be interpreted as an act to gag the free press and suppress legitimate political opposition against the government.

All of us whatever our political colour are committed to safe guarding the territorial integrity of a democratic Sri Lanka. The actions of the government bring into question very clearly their obvious lack of commitment to democratic values.

Are you trying to make use of the national crises to further your partisan political objectives at a time of General Elections by gagging up all legitimate opposition to your government?

I would also like to draw your attention to the fact that this view is restricted not only to this Parliament.

The European Parliament had very recently adopted a resolution drawing attention to the threat to democracy, particularly referring to the emergency regulations in Sri Lanka and the fact that this is prejudicial to the functioning of the democratic process as the parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place before the end of the year.

The operative paragraph of the EU resolution, I quote calls for the emergency regulations to be lifted as soon as possible and in any case well ahead of elections which must be held before the end of the year

This resolution was passed unanimously by the European parliament . What more indication do you want?

Furthermore I desire to inform this house that there is a motion pending before the British House of Commons which calls for the removing of this regulation.

I quote the motion -

"That this house deplores the decision of the Sri Lankan president Mrs Kumaratunga to impose a new series of emergency regulations notes that the regulations imposed on 3rd May, restrict press freedom, limit freedom of association, authorise detention without trial and negate right to private property; further notes that this is wholly counter to the spirit of the recent European Union note to the Sri Lankan government calling for respect for human rights and in direct contravention of the UN charter on Human Rights and urges the Foreign Secretary to make urgent representations to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in London making clear his deep concern at these draconian new regulations which impose a wholly unacceptable restriction on legitimate political activity and the freedom of the press ahead of the Sri Lankan general election and seeking assurances that these elections will be conducted in an atmosphere free of intimidation."

Therefore I call upon the government to take immediate steps to ensure that the order made under regulation 14 banning the printing of newspapers be rescinded forthwith.

In conclusion I would like to quote from the editorial of the Island Newspaper of May 24 "The task of newspapers is not always pleasant . Unlike sycophantic newspapers, independent papers are critical of government not for the sake of criticism but for the betterment and security of the community. Insecure undemocratic governments resent such criticism but not mature democratic governments who consider the press as a guiding light that prevents them from straying away from their original objectives."

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