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Reporters Without Borders calls on SL presidential candidates to protect press freedom

The international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has called on Sri Lanka’s presidential candidates to protect press freedom following the firing of K.M. Razool, who refused to publish unverified anti-TNA propaganda. 

Razool was suspended from Capital FM under the accusation of “unruly behaviour”. There are suspicions of undue political influence with Capital FM’s Chairman, Vincendrarajan Sathasivam being the the father-in law of MP Angajan Ramanadan, SLFP’s (Sri Lanka Freedom Party) Jaffna District Organizer.

Razool has gone on the record stating;

“If my refusal to publish doctored and unverified content to the favour of Gotabaya Rajapaksa amounts to insubordination, that in itself proves how biased Capital FM is. I repeatedly, during several editorial meetings, raised my voice in defiance saying that I will not publish fake content, which is a serious violation of media ethics.”.

Read more here: Muslim journalist suspended for not publishing unverified anti-TNA news

Daniel Bastard, head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk, has stated;

“The way K. M. Razool was threatened and then fired is typical of the constant harassment to which Sri Lankan journalists are subjected in their work”.

He further stated on the matter of the elections;

“The 16 November presidential election will lack any legitimacy if journalists cannot practice their profession with complete independence. We therefore call on the two main candidates to give specific undertakings to defend press freedom in general and journalists’ editorial autonomy in particular.”

In their reporting, RSF has noted a problematic history of press freedom with both presidential candidates. RSF notes that Sajith Premadasa, the New Democratic Front’s candidate, is the son of President Ranasinghe Premadasa who continuously violated media freedom during his term in office from 1989 to 1993. Whereas Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the SLPP candidate, is the former Defence Minister and brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who ruled Sri Lanka from 2005-2015. During this period there were repeated attacks on journalists and at least fourteen journalists were murdered, reports RSF.

Gotabaya is also alleged to have played a direct role in the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, former editor of the Sunday Leader, who was murdered on 8 January 2009. 

RSF further notes that Gotabaya had created a special unit known as the “Tripoli Platoon” after 2015 which were specifically designed to target dissident journalists. They were known for their “white van abductions” and disappearances.

The report further warns of an increase in police attacks on Tamil journalists. RSF states that last May there was a rise on attacks on Tamil journalists coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the official end of the Sri Lankan war.

Read RSF full statement here.