International Human Rights watchdog, Amnesty International (AI) yesterday asked the Sri Lankan government to immediately end its crackdown on journalists, political activists and human rights defenders after last week’s presidential election.

“Opposition supporters and journalists have been arrested, several prominent newspaper editors have received death threats and trade unionists and opposition supporters have been harassed following the election,” AI said in a statement.

“Victory against the Tamil Tigers followed by a historic election should have ended political repression in Sri Lanka but instead we have seen a serious clampdown on freedom of expression”, Asia- Pacific AI Regional Deputy Director Madhu Malhotra said.

Sri Lankan journalists have given Amnesty International a list of 56 of their colleagues who face serious threats, including some working for the government-owned Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, as well as the Independent Television Network, Lak Handa and the Lake House Group.

“Threats, beatings, and arrests mean that Sri Lankan human rights activists live in fear of the consequences of expressing their political opinions,” Mr. Malhotra said.

On January 29 officers of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) raided the Irida Lanka newspaper office and arrested chief editor Chandana Sirimalwatte who remains in detention.

The newspaper had openly campaigned for common opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka during the elections. The office was raided again the following day.  Popular internet site Lanka E News office was sealed by the authorities and AI received a number of reports that a group of unidentified gunmen visited the Lanka E news office on at least two occasions during last week.

Sri Lankan journalist and political analyst Prageeth Eknaligoda, a contributor to the site, disappeared on his way home from work two days before the election and is still missing. When his wife reported his disappearance to the Homagama police, she was herself detained for several hours. Mr. Eknaligoda had been actively reporting on political events in the run-up to the election and had recently come out in favour of General Fonseka.

“President Rajapaksa’s government has to show that it will now try to deal with the human rights violations that have plagued Sri Lanka, instead of using the post election period to launch a new crackdown,” Mr. Malotra said.

Source: Daily Mirror – 03.02.2010

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