Outcry as Sri Lanka’s defence chief urges censorship

COLOMBO, May 5, 2008 (AFP) – Sri Lanka’s main media rights group on Monday voiced alarm after the island’s hawkish defence chief reportedly branded some journalists “traitors” and called for sweeping censorship.

The Free Media Movement said Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who has long demanded strict controls on how news organisations are allowed to cover the war with Tamil Tiger rebels, “must be held accountable for his words and reigned in.”

Quoting recent comments by Rajapakse to Sri Lankan state television, the FMM said he had “termed as media ‘traitors’ those who published reports seen as harmful towards the security forces and military operations.”

Rajapakse, the younger brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse, also “stressed that such media should be banned,” the FMM said.

The group condemned what it said was a “regime that openly calls for censorship, clamps down on critical voices of dissent and is defined by vulturine thugs who prey on independent media.”

In January, Rajapakse called for the introduction of criminal defamation laws to stop journalists from writing on the government’s war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The defence secretary had argued that there w