Press freedom has been a significant problem in Sri Lanka since the Civil War which lasted nearly three decades from 1983 to 2009. The conflict between the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) was one of South Asia’s longest-running wars to date.
From 2005 to 2015, when Mahinda Rajapaksa served as President and oversaw a brutal end to the war, many journalists and activists reporting on alleged war crimes and human rights abuses at the hands of the Government were either killed, tortured or disappeared under mysterious circumstances. Many questions were left unanswered as to who exactly was behind the killings of journalists.
It is important to note that Gotabaya Rajapaksa, also well known as the “terminator” served as a former Defence Secretary during Mahinda’s presidency and had been linked to numerous human rights violations including allegedly orchestrating ‘white van’ kidnappings of journalists and activists that were either tortured or killed.
The Rajapaksas have denied such allegations, but many journalists are concerned now that the brothers have acquired power. Activists and families of journalists who had been killed have still not received justice or accountability.
Many journalists in Sri Lanka have faced harassment and threats to having their reputations tarnished if they carry on reporting against those in power.
In Sri Lanka, many feel that the change can only be achieved with international support – for press freedom, for the right of journalists to keep the public informed, and for the right to establish truth, justice, and accountability.