Washington, DC – The United States on Tuesday lambasted the Sri Lankan government for its assault on freedom of the press and for serious human rights violations, after a spate of attacks on the country’s media organizations.
In one of the toughest statements in recent years to any country, the Acting Deputy Spokesperson at the US State Department, Patrick Ventrell, said, “The United States calls on Sri Lankan authorities to demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law and freedom of expression by conducting thorough investigations into all attacks and killings of journalists and bringing perpetrators to justice.”
Urging Sri Lankan authorities to protect freedom of expression, Ventrell said, “The necessity of upholding this fundamental right was not only a component of the UN Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva this March, but it was a central recommendation of the Sri Lankan Government’s own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission.”
Asked whether the US government is willing to take further action beyond the statement issued today, Ventrell told reporters, “We’re going to continue to work with the Sri Lankans bilaterally. We’re going to continue to work with interested parties that include a number of people quite frankly in the international community who are deeply concerned.”
Reiterating the determination to “press our concerns very directly,” Ventrell said, “We’ll continue to do so bilaterally, but we’ll also continue to do so with other members of the international community and that’s certainly been the case with the – at the UN Human Rights Council and in other fora.”
Included in the statement, the US noted its continuous “Free the Press campaign,” and highlighted, “the case of Uthayan, a Tamil-language newspaper in Sri Lanka.”
“Uthayan has seen its personnel beaten, its newspaper shipments burned, its equipment destroyed, and its offices set ablaze in this last month alone,” said Ventrell. “The assault on a free press in Sri Lanka extends beyond Uthayan. The BBC Tamil language service has had its programs about Sri Lanka and the Human Rights Council censored. Reporters have been physically assaulted and murdered in years past, and a prominent political cartoonist has been missing for three years.”
The US has seen the latest Amnesty International report, Ventrell noted, and, “It echoes many of the concerns we raised in our own Human Rights Report.” The report documents the systematic abuse, abduction, imprisonment, and murder of members of the press and reveals a pattern of violent repression of all dissent by authorities in Sri Lanka. Led by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan government has adopted an official position that criticism is equivalent to treason, in an attempt by the country to maintain its grip on power.
The statement read by Ventrell at the State Department briefing on Tuesday concluded, “So as we have said many times, we remain extremely concerned about threats to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and continue to support the need for justice and accountability for serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.”