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Call for repeal of emergency regulations and censorship laws

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is a 6 June 2000 joint statement signed by political parties, trade unions and a number of other civil society organisations, following a joint protest campaign co-ordinated by Free Media Movement:

Repeal Oppressive Laws
Defend Democratic Rights

The negative impact of the government's decision to place the country on a 'war footing' on May 3, continues to affect the day to day lives of Sri Lankan people in various ways. As if a censorship of news from the conflict zones imposed over 2 years ago (and operational since June 5, 1998) were not enough, the imposition of the most repressive laws ever promulgated in the country has caused the entire democratic process in this country to grind to a halt. We, therefore, call on the government to repeal the Emergency Regulations and all repressive laws created as a consequence of these Regulations, and take immediate steps to restore normalcy to the lives of ordinary citizens.

Basic democratic rights in Sri Lanka, which were in any case being rapidly eroded, have now been dealt a fatal blow by the declaration of a 'war footing'. The Sri Lankan people have been denied their right to have access to information and to express an opinion through these prohibitions. The labour rights of the working people have been snatched away from them by the ban imposed on strikes and protest demonstrations. Under these circumstances, the people of Sri Lanka are today reduced to living as if they were blind, dumb and deaf. It seems as if the people of this country have no right to know what is really taking place, apart from the propaganda of racist and militarist groups that are nurtured by members of the political elite who are linked to the government. The media controls that fell into place with the banning of the broadcast of the BBC's Sinhala programme, 'Sandesaya', have been exercised further with the banning of the
'Uthayan' and 'Sunday Leader' newspapers. It has now been clearly proven that the narrow political interests of the government underlie these censorship regulations. We demand that these censorship laws that prevent the people from making informed political and social choices be repealed immediately.

In addition, we condemn the prohibition placed on all other forms and methods that people use to express their opinion, such as conducting meetings and demonstrations. The government is, clearly, intent on imposing repressive laws on the pretext of safeguarding national security. The government has no right to take away the legitimate right of the people to meet and campaign, as much as it has no right to impose restrictions on access to information.

The government, certain political groups and some media institutions have now begun a propaganda campaign that fosters ethnic hatred and hostility among the different communities that live in Sri Lanka. We view this as an articulation of the ‘war-prone mentality’ that prevails in our society today. There is now only the ever-diminishing prospect of a peaceful resolution to the ethnic conflict and the war raging in the north and east, as this war-mongering grows. In this way, the spread of a pro-war attitude throughout the island also endangers the very existence of democratic traditions and institutions in Sri Lanka. The 'war mentality' could even evolve into a situation in which we see the creation of a military regime if we remain passive observers of these events and developments. Although there is no such prospect in Sri Lanka at present, there is still the danger of a constitutional dictatorship. From this perspective, we could say that the creation of a 'pro-war' mentality is a step further in the government's agenda against democracy. One critical outcome of such developments could be direct foreign intervention; we face this danger at present. We affirm the urgent need to move forward towards a political solution to the ethnic conflict, through a process of negotiation. This is essential to avert any further deterioration of the situation. We appeal to the people of this country to understand this situation and to join hands to build a society based on democratic values and peace.

The rights of the working people of this country to strike and to agitate for an increase in wages in the face of the growing cost of living, have been repressed. At the moment, there is a plan to grab 2 days' wages from every worker, and there are various other repressive plans as well. There is a move to pass on the burden and the cost of the war to the ordinary people through the state machinery, using provincial schools and the network of Village Officers (Grama Sevakas) for this purpose. However, this war has not adversely affected high-level businessmen and the upper levels of the bourgeoisie; rather, they can be seen to profit from it. The war does not create economic difficulties for most politicians, who become rich overnight as a consequence of the conflict. The burden of the war has fallen squarely on the shoulders of the working people of this country. It is our politicians and our rulers, then and now, who have to accept responsibility for creating a war situation, not the people. We are vehemently opposed to the declaration of a 'war footing' that adds to the burdens of the ordinary people of Sri Lanka in the name of war. We will not submit to these repressive measures. We will take whatever democratic and peaceful steps we can, together and separately, to defeat this situation. We thus declare our collective protest against the declaration of a 'war footing' which erodes democratic rights in Sri Lanka, propagates war hysteria and adds to the burdens of the ordinary citizens of our country.

Inter-university Students Federation
Anthar Samagam Sevaka Sangamaya
Uva Community Development Centre
United Socialist Party
Up Country Peoples Front
Kalape Api
Karmika Pravahana Saha Podu Kamkaru Sangamaya
Water Supply Trade Union Front
Jathika janatha party
Jathika Sevaka Sangamaya
July Strikers Organisation
Devasarana Sanvardana kenndraya
New Democratic Party
Nidahas Kamkaryu Sanvada Sabhava
Free Media Movement
Nidahas Vruththiya Samith Madyasthanaya
Movement for the Defense of Democratic Rights
Prajathanthravadi podujana Sangamaya
Prajathantravadi Vamansika Sandanaya
Bankers' Federation
People's Bank Union
Madya Sevaka Vruththiya Samithi Sammelanaya
Government printers union
RMO/AMP's union
Government Nurses' union
Eksath Heda Sangamaya
Sri Lanka Muslim Party
Lanka banku Sevaka Sangamaya
Lanka Electricty Trade Union Federation Front
Lake House Workers Union
VIBHAVI Cultural Centre
All Ceylon Samurdi and Agrarian Research Officers Union
Government United workers Federation
United Workers Federation
Women's Development Foundation
Community Education Centre - Malambe

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