“The Strangulation of the Sri Lankan Press”

From a profile of Sri Lanka’s president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, written for The (UK) Independent by a “special correspondent,” “a Sri Lankan who wishes to remain anonymous because of possible threats to his life” (h/t, The Awl):

If one were to set aside the remarkable victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for just a moment, the other most significant legacy of Rajapaksa’s presidency is the veritable death of the free Sri Lankan media. The independent press has been muzzled, strangled, beaten and killed in the last four years and the intimidation is by far the worst the country has ever seen. Coercion of the media commenced shortly after the government decided to push for a military victory over the Tamil Tigers.

While previous Sri Lankan governments used press censorship and criminal defamation laws to keep the media in check during sensitive military operations, Rajapaksa would have none of it. Instead, he continued his monthly meetings with newspaper editors and year-end media galas, at which he assured the country’s top journalists that he had no axe to grind with them and promised to solve all their problems. But all the while, Sri Lankan journalists were being abducted, brutally assaulted and in several tragic instances, killed, every time they took a tough stand against the government or the military…

Where attempts to beat and kill media personnel into submission have failed, the administration has simply purchased publishing houses for millions of rupees or convinced newspaper proprietors to join the ruling party, effectively suppressing any dissenting views being expressed in those publications…

All something of a “metamorphosis” for Rajapaksa, the Independent’s “special correspondent” notes, a man who way back when was a “starry-eyed” agitator “determined to secure the rights of the oppressed and release them from the brutal grip of state terror,” and then,”when he was minister of labour and later prime minister,” someone who was known as “the ‘cabinet reporter’…for leaking sensitive cabinet information to his many friends in the media,” including Lasantha Wickrematunge, “the slain editor of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader newspaper, killed on Rajapaksa’s watch” (something Wickrematunge predicted here).

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.