The official Web site of the Sri Lanka Tourist Board (www.srilankatourism.org) says the island off the southeastern coast of India is “A land like no other.” Those in the country’s media would agree, but for reasons other than the beautiful beaches and mysterious jungles.
“The dormant war between security forces and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) has had harmful consequences for the safety of journalists, particularly Tamils,” the 2006 annual report by Reporters Without Borders said. “Murders, arrests, threats and bombings have again become the daily lot for many reporters, particularly in the north and east of the country.”
Following a fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka in October, a joint statement issued by International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission “found that there has been a serious deterioration in the security situation for the Sri Lankan media with threats, abductions and attacks committed by all parties in the conflict, particularly paramilitary and militia groups. Eight media workers have been killed since August 2005.”
The civil war
Tens of thousands have died since civil war began in 1983 between the Sinhalese majority and Tamil separatists. Although a peace agreement was signed in 2002, the fighting has escalated each year.
According to the United Nations, “Some 3,000 civilians have been killed in the conflict between the government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam since the resumption of armed hostilities in 2006, bringing the total number killed since the start of the conflict to 67,000.” In addition, officials estimate that nearly half a million have been displaced because of the fighting.
State of the media
Incidents involving the media and the government have become more frequent and significant in recent months, as indicated by the following headlines from the Free Media Movement in Sri Lanka (www.freemediasrilanka.org), the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (www.ifex.org) and Reporters Without Borders (www.rsf.org):
* “Income tax investigation into two newspapers may be intimidation tactic,” Free Media Movement says
(www.ifex.org/alerts/layout/set/print/content/view/full/80524) Jan. 19, 2007
* “Journalists, free expression worker labeled ‘traitors,’ issued death threats”
(www.ifex.org/alerts/layout/set/print/content/view/full/80498) Jan. 18, 2007
History and facts
* Slightly more than 20 million people live on an island the size of West Virginia.
* The official name was changed in 1972 from Ceylon to the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, which operates as a unitary state.
* There are nine provinces, but only seven ruling councils operate today .
* The capitol is Colombo, but the legislative and administrative center of the country is Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte.
* Feb. 4 commemorates the day of independence from the U.K. in 1948.
* Religions include Buddhist 69%, Muslim 7.6%, Hindu 7.1% and Christian 6.2%.
* Primary exports are clothing, textiles, tea, gems, rubber and coconuts.
* Radio Ceylon, known today as the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (www.slbc.lk), is the oldest radio station in South Asia; the country’s Telegraph Department began experimental operations in 1923, only three years after the inauguration of broadcasting in Europe.
* A comprehensive country profile is available from BBC news (news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/country_profiles/1168427.stm).
In late January, after defeating opposition forces during a key battle in the northeast, the government announced it would cease fighting immediately if Tamil Tigers wanted to negotiate. There are indications, however, that the military eventually may have to close in to liberate civilians in the province of Killinochchi, an insurgent stronghold. Political analysts, however, fear the civil war could escalate considerably if the government takes steps to banish the Tigers from the area.