His Right Hon. Ranil Wickramasinghe
Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
58, Sir Ernest de Silva Mawathe
Colombo 7
Fax: 0094 1 385679

8 July 2002

Your Excellency,

The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, leading journalists and media executives, wishes to warmly congratulate both the government and parliament of Sri Lanka on its decision to repeal the criminal defamation laws.

According to information provided to IPI, on 18 June, members of parliament unanimously voted to repeal the country’s defamation laws. Enacted during British colonial rule and kept on the statute books when Sri Lanka gained its independence in 1948, the laws have been used to intimidate the media. An IPI protest dated 26 July 2001 revealed that editor-in-chief of the Ravaya newspaper, Victor Ivan, faced four outstanding criminal defamation charges. Prior to this case, there were numerous prosecutions of editors and journalists.

By repealing the defamation laws, IPI believes Your Excellency is disclosing a new commitment to press freedom in Sri Lanka. After so many years of false promises, IPI finds it deeply encouraging that the present government is making good on its promises to local press freedom organisations, in particular, the Free Media Movement, The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka and the Newspaper Society of Sri Lanka. All of these organisations have long championed the cause of press freedom, through some of the most difficult periods in Sri Lanka’s history, and the government is to be applauded for acting upon the recommendations of these organisations.

Aside from the defamation laws, IPI looks forward to further changes in the Sri Lankan legislation. Indeed, IPI notes that the government has also decided to draft a Right to Information Act and is working with local media organisations on an independent Press Complaints Commission and intends to repeal the present Press Council Act. Furthermore, IPI has been told that the Press Performance Act may also be repealed and that the government has promised to review secrecy laws.

IPI hopes the government will press ahead with these and other changes and that it will create a media environment which can be emulated by other countries in the region. Furthermore, if such changes are undertaken, IPI will actively consider the removal of Sri Lanka from the “IPI Watch List” at its board meeting in November of this year.

Congratulations once again on the progress you have made.

We thank you for your attention.

Johann P. Fritz
International Press Institute (IPI)