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IFJ expresses concern over political censorship in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) yesterday expressed concern over potential political censorship and the control of freedom of expression in Sri Lanka after a novel, a radio drama and a stage play were criticised by Buddhist groups and Sinhala Buddhist politicians for allegedly portraying anti-Buddhist sentiments. 

"The Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) headed by Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaranatunge, was forced to amend the titles of several episodes of a radio drama after monks and other hardliner religious organizations labelled the titles of some of the radio drama’s episodes as anti-Buddhist and an insult on the religion. The performance certificate of the play Mama Kelin Minihek, directed by Asanka Sayakkara, was also revoked by the Public Performance Board; and reinstated only after some of its ‘anti-Buddhist’ dialogues were changed," IFJ said in a statement. 

"Sinhala novel Budunge Rasthiyaduwa, by K.K Srinath, was also attacked for its “anti-religious’ title. Although the author calimed that there was no religious contents in their work, Minister of Higher Education and Cultural Affairs Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe ordered police to commence investigations and file charges under sections 290, 290A, 291A and 291B of the Penal Code against the novelist and his publisher. Bookstores also received threatening calls and demands not to sell the novel."

“Such overt censorship and control of freedom of expression only serves to destabilize the democratic pillars of Sri Lanka’s democracy and provide fertile ground for abuse. The IFJ urges the Sri Lankan government to review these cases and to respect citizens’ rights to artistic freedom.”

Meanwhile a group of 15 prominent Buddhist organisations in Sri Lanka this week thanked the Sri Lankan government for banning the book and radio drama for “insulting Buddhism”, whilst calling for more to be done to protect Buddhism.

“We consider it a constitutional obligation of the government to prevent the continuous insults on the Buddha, the distortion of the Dhamma and the belittling of the Buddhist cultural traditions by taking cover behind Democracy and Freedom of Expression prevailing in the country,” said the organisations in a letter to Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena.

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Sri Lanka's Office of National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) however has denied reports that three radio dramas it produced have been banned from being broadcast.