Sri Lankan Government Hardens its Position as the War Winds Down

Srilanka2-featureSumedha Senanayake in Dissent:

Much of the existing Sri Lankan media has also been incensed by the international criticism over the government’s handling of the military offensive, with editorials accusing the West of kowtowing to LTTE supporters. The United States has especially been singled out for its perceived double standard for carrying out its war in Afghanistan against the Taliban and al-Qaeda, but chastising the Sri Lankan government as it teeters on the brink of eradicating its own terrorist menace, the LTTE—a group labeled a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Canada.

But the dearth of dissenting views in the Sri Lankan media is more due to fear of reprisal from the state than a sense of patriotic zeal. The government does not tolerate dissent from journalists and media outlets that criticize its operation against the LTTE—and those who do are ruthlessly suppressed.

My uncle, a doctor, lamented to me of a lost friendship with a well-known Sunday Times defense columnist. He had received a phone call from the columnist’s wife, saying that he could no longer maintain contact with him because he was being followed and feared that further contact would endanger my uncle. According to a January 2009 Amnesty International report, at least fourteen media workers have been unlawfully killed since the beginning of 2006 and more than 20 journalists have fled the country because of threats. One of the most widely reported incidents was the murder of Lasantha Wikrematunga, editor of the English-language Sunday Leader, who was shot by unknown gunmen in Colombo. In an editorial written by Wikrematunga and published posthumously, he accused the government for his death.*

The Sri Lankan government, meanwhile, has framed the military offensive as a massive humanitarian mission, dubbing it the “the world’s largest hostage rescue operation.”