Sri Lanka has blocked two news websites critical of the government, a move press and media groups said was intended to intimidate critics of President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration.
Media rights groups told the Reuters news agency that the blocking of www.srilankamirror.com and www.theindependent.lk on Wednesday violated basic rights guaranteed by the constitution. These groups and journalists filed a complaint at the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka office and held a protest.
The government has already blocked at least eight news websites.
“We had news items criticising the government that would have been the reason for blocking our site,” said Subash Jayawardene, editor of the theindependent.lk.
Sri Lankan authorities initially blocked news websites during and after the final phase of a 26-year war against separatists Tamil Tiger rebels, banning the rebels’ main website in 2008.
The government is under heavy pressure to address rights issues and ensure media freedom after a US-backed United Nations resolution was passed in March urging the country to prosecute war criminals.
Both websites have petitions and event posters for media freedom on their homepage.
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“Our stories were credible and reported with responsibility. But the government may not have liked the stories we published,” Kalum Shivantha, editor of the srilankamirror.com, told Reuters.
The websites were blocked by the state-run Telecommunication Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, which is overseen by Rajapaksa.
Media rights groups say at least 14 Sri Lankan media workers have been killed since the beginning of 2006 and several media institutions have been attacked, but no one has been prosecuted.
Many media institutions are controlled indirectly by government proxies, media rights groups say.
In 2012, police raided the offices of two websites, one of them being srilankamirror.com, arresting eight journalists on charges of defaming Rajapaksa and reporting news in an “incorrect and vulgar manner”. They were later released but their computers were confiscated.
Sri Lanka is ranked 165th out of 180 countries in the 2014 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.