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"Mawbima" and "Sunday Standard" newspapers closed by government pressure

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM press release:

Killing Free Media: The forced closure of Mawbima and the Sunday Standard

FMM is deeply distressed to hear news of the untimely demise of the "Mawbima" and "Sunday Standard" newspapers, published by the Standard Newspaper Group.

In our statement of 13 March 2007, we first expressed our concern that the financial accounts of the Standard Newspaper Group, owned by Tiran Alles, were frozen along with other business accounts of Mr. Alles, effectively plunging the "Mawbima" and "Sunday Standard" newspapers into an immediate crisis. Both newspapers, "Mawbima" in particular, were critical voices that courageously exposed corruption, nepotism and bad governance without fear or favour. However, according to Thilakaratne Kuruwita Bandara and Hana Ibrahim, the chief editors of "Mawbima" and the "Sunday Standard" respectively, in a letter addressed to the diplomatic community on 14 March, the impartiality and professionalism of the newspapers increasingly incurred the wrath of the incumbent government and even the president himself.

Accordingly, the sealing of the Standard Newspaper Group's accounts and the consequent demise of a media institution critical of the policies of the government and the president clearly marks out the serious threat to the development of free, impartial media in Sri Lanka.

The FMM vehemently stresses that no amount of state-sponsored loans to journalists, as reported recently in the press, will have any lasting effect on securing and strengthening media freedom unless the government, in practice and by example, systematically strengthens media freedom and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

The imposition of an unnecessary and deeply undemocratic blockade of newsprint to the Jaffna Peninsula for nearly eight months, acts such as the detention of journalists for extended periods of time without any charges being brought against them - such as the case of a Maunasamy Parameshwaree - and the increasing threats to the personal safety and security of media personnel in the country, all point towards a deeply disturbing situation for media in Sri Lanka today.

To prevent any further erosion of free media, we urge the government to renew its commitments to media freedom and guarantee that decisions taken contrary to the spirit of democracy and for clearly parochial reasons are rescinded with immediate effect, to allow for the quick resumption in the publication of "Mawbima" and the "Sunday Standard" and the development of critical voices in support of democratic governance through professional media in Sri Lanka.

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