SRI LANKA: Sri Lanka imposes censorship on war reporting

President Mahinda Rajapakse uses emergency laws to prevent publication of information on military operations following LTTE attack

Thursday, November 1, 2007

By Amal Jayasinghe

Colombo --- Sri Lanka has imposed blanket censorship on war reporting, officials said on Wednesday, a week after Tamil Tiger rebels carried out a devastating attack on the country’s air force.

President Mahinda Rajapakse used tough emergency laws to ban the publication of any information on military operations as well as weapons procurement by government forces, according to a government notice obtained by AFP.

However, the government was yet to name a "competent authority" to carry out the actual censoring of reports, said a spokesman for the information and media ministry, adding that officials were studying the presidential order.

The move follows last week’s rebel attack that virtually wiped out Sri Lanka’s fleet of spy planes.

The Tamil Tigers used a group of 21 elite suicide bombers to smash the Anuradhapura base where 14 troopers were also killed.

A notice on the "Prohibition on Publication and Transmission of Sensitive Military Information" was issued by Rajapakse to prevent reports on military operations as well as plans to buy equipment for the military or police.

Under the terms of the new regulations, editors could be jailed for up to five years for breaking the censorship, together with a fine not exceeding $50.

The order said the restrictions were introduced with the "purpose of maintaining or protecting national security, territorial integrity and the sovereignty of Sri Lanka."

Sri Lanka’s government had previously imposed similar rules from 1998 to 2001, the height of fighting between troops and Tamil Tigers in the island’s north.

The latest censorship was imposed in line with the state of emergency invoked by the president following an assassination attempt against his younger brother, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who is defence secretary.

Gotabhaya Rajapakse narrowly escaped the suicide bomber who rammed an explosives laden three-wheel taxi against his armed escort near the president’s official residence here in December 2006.

It was not immediately clear how the restrictions would affect foreign news organisations’ reporting on Asia’s longest running civil war.

Journalists are already barred from travelling to the northern mini-state controlled by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and frontline access is also restricted.

The previous restrictions were only imposed on Colombo-based foreign correspondents for four days -- as authorities said they had no control over what was published abroad.

In June, the government virtually censored the pro-rebel web site by ordering Internet service providers based in the country to block access to that site.

The government then came under fire from media rights groups after saying it would like to hire hackers to stop the site altogether.