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Basic Democratic Rights for Media Personnel
A Statement by the Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera, Bishop of Colombo
 
CEYLON 080317-1
March 17, 2008

[The Church of Ceylon (E-P) - Ceylon] Recent news reports about the continuing harassment and arrests of media persons are both disturbing and frustrating. Today the focus of the whole Nation is on the brazen and systematic violence against several Rupavahini media persons, and the recent arrest and indefinite detention without access to lawyers of a group of journalists associated with a news web site and printing press.

These media persons and their families, friends and colleagues feel utterly helpless and vulnerable and have no one to turn to for justice. The values of a democratic system that should spontaneously protect them and uphold their rights as citizens of this country, have sadly eroded; and all other democratic institutions including the Opposition seem hopelessly incapable of correcting this very dangerous trend. In reality these persons are thrust at the very mercy of an unyielding and insensitive political culture in their search for protection and rights.

The current trend of attacks against the Rupavahini staff in the absence of any arrests of the perpetrators is an indictment against the entire police force. The IGP must explain why the quality of intelligence leading to prompt arrests and investigations of those considered enemies of the State, is so clearly lacking in instances when certain media personnel are harassed and attacked by supposedly small time criminals. This disparity in the seriousness of the State law enforcement and protection mechanisms raises questions of professional bias and political obstruction and is totally unacceptable.

All peace-loving citizens of this country welcome security measures taken by the Government to investigate and prevent acts of violence perpetrated by the LTTE. However these measures will be most effective if they also counter the violence caused by other groups and individuals. Most importantly these measures should concurrently ensure the safety, dignity and rights of individuals even when they are politically critical of the Government or when arrested on alleged suspicion of terrorist involvement. This is the hallmark of good governance and sound democracy that the Government of Sri Lanka must uphold and work towards.

Consequently all those media persons arrested on suspicion of terrorist involvement and their families must know why they have been taken in. They must also have immediate access to their lawyers and the assurance of a fair judicial investigation. If found guilty, these persons must face the consequences under the law. If innocent, they must be exonerated.

However late in the day these serious lapses can still be rectified and I call upon the Minister of Justice and the IGP to discharge their responsibilities without fear or favour and in fairness to all. In doing so you will be safeguarding what is today perhaps the most valuable democratic institution of a modern State and you will undoubtedly have the backing of the people. May God give you the wisdom to discern and the strength to act.

With Peace and Blessings

The Rt Revd Duleep de Chickera
Bishop of Colombo
17th March 2008