The United States is concerned by reports that the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defense has ordered registered non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, and civil society groups to cease their media engagements and activities. This includes press conferences, workshops, training for journalists, and dissemination of press releases.
“This order,” said State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki, “undermines Sri Lanka’s longstanding and proud democratic traditions, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”
J.C. Weliamuna, head of Transparency International in Sri Lanka and a human rights lawyer, said the Defense Ministry’s order is “absolutely unconstitutional” and violates the public’s rights of freedom of association and expression. He called it a “continuation of threats on civil society.”
The State Department’s latest human rights report on Sri Lanka cites attacks on and harassment of civil society activists and journalists as major human rights problems in Sri Lanka.
National and international media freedom organizations and journalists’ associations have expressed concern about restrictions on media freedom in Sri Lanka and have been sharply critical of the government’s role in harassing and intimidating journalists. The human rights report also noted that over the last year, Sri Lankan government officials have dispersed and interfered with membership training sessions held by media groups.
The United States strongly urges the government of Sri Lanka to allow civil society organizations and NGOs to operate freely.