Networking for Rights (NfR) has expressed its strongest condemnation of new form of censorship being practiced in Sri Lanka by the imposition of a ban on posters and the arrest of those pasting them.
According to a report released by The Centre for Human Rights (CHR) in Sri Lanka, 24 persons have been arrested for pasting posters during the last few months. Almost all posters so banned by the Police are critical of the Government and relate to rights of the students, workers and medical professionals.
On top of this, in the Colombo public notice boards have been reduced to a minimum and putting up political bill boards have been effectively banned.
Public display of posters is an age old tradition of free expression all over the world and the people of Sri Lanka have enjoyed this right until now, even under emergency rule. The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka has assured the right to paste posters, time and again during last few decades.
As recently as on 4 October this year, the Supreme Court directed the Attorney General to order the Police Chief to stop taking any action under Emergency Regulations in cases involving the pasting of posters. There is no law in Sri Lanka that prohibits pasting of posters.
Intimidating and arresting persons pasting posters has become a common occurrence in recent times. It is a method of suppressing criticism and dissenting opinion. As the CHR has stated, “There are no legal provisions preventing anyone from printing, distributing or pasting posters, but in the recent months many arrests were made under the outdated Section 120 of the Penal Code, which deals with treason and unrelated sections of the National Thoroughfares Act and National Environment Act.”
In a situation where the mainstream media is under an unprecedented pressure to practice self censorship of critical and dissenting opinions, posters and hand bills play a vital role in the exercise of the people’s right to information. Banning posters and hand bills by arbitrary Police action constitutes a serious violation of the people’s right to know.
NfR considers this new development as a dangerous trend not only for the people’s rights to know but also to democratic governance. This again shows that the current regime has no genuine intention of improving media freedom and its only concern is to control free dissemination of ideas and opinions in Sri Lanka.