US concerned over assault on free press in Sri Lanka

Washington, May 1 (IANS) Highlighting the attacks on a Tamil-language newspaper in Sri Lanka, the United States has said it would continue to “very directly” press its concerns for press freedom bilaterally as also through the international community.

Uthayan, a Tamil-language newspaper in Sri Lanka, “has seen its personnel beaten, its newspaper shipments burned, its equipment destroyed, and its offices set ablaze in this last month alone,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell told reporters Tuesday.

“The assault on a free press in Sri Lanka extends beyond Uthayan,” he said. “The BBC Tamil-language service has had its programmes about Sri Lanka and the Human Rights Council censored.”.

“Reporters have been physically assaulted and murdered in years past, and a prominent political cartoonist has been missing for three years,” Ventrell said continuing what he called “our Free the Press campaign.”

The United States, Ventrell said “calls on Sri Lankan authorities to demonstrate their commitment to the rule of law and freedom of expression by conducting thorough investigations into all attacks and killings of journalists and bringing perpetrators to justice.

Urging Sri Lankan authorities to protect freedom of expression, he said: “The necessity of upholding this fundamental right was not only a component of the UN Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva this March, but it was a central recommendation of the Sri Lankan Government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.”

The Amnesty International report, Ventrell noted echoes many of the concerns the US had raised in its own Human Rights Report.

“So as we have said many times, we remain extremely concerned about threats to freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and continue to support the need for justice and accountability for serious human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.”

Asked if any further diplomatic steps were expected to put pressure on Colombo, Ventrell said: “We’re going to continue to work with the Sri Lankans bilaterally.

“We’re going to continue to work with interested parties that include a number of people quite frankly in the international community who are deeply concerned,” including the UN Human Rights Council, he said.

“So we’ll continue to press our concerns very directly.”

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