Australians protest against Bogolloagama press club meet

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 15 October 2008, 20:20 GMT]
More than 600 Australian Tamils protested in front of the National Press Club in Canberra Tuesday while the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, Rohitha Bogollagama, was addressing an invited audience inside the National Press Club, sources in Canberra said. The protesters highlighted Sri Lanka's escalating human rights violations against the media workers.

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"A Sri Lankan government representative is addressing Australian journalists while the Sri Lankan government has banned journalists from visiting areas where there are more than 200,000 Internally displaced, and where Colombo's embargo on essential food is driving the IDPs towards a humanitarian crisis," protesters said of the press club event.

"Without press freedom, the truth and ground realities about the suffering of the Tamil people is not getting out to the international community," a protester said.

Mark Dodd of the Australian newspaper asked how a country that has questionable track record of human rights violations could ask the Australian government to ban the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Catherine McGrath from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) commented on the poor rating of Sri Lanka by various media rights groups. She asked whether the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) was going to allow journalists to enter LTTE controlled areas; to comment on the killing of journalists where the GoSL had been accused; and to comment on Sri Lanka opposition party leader's recent accusation of the GoSL in relation to Mr Janaka Perera's assassination.

Mr Bogollagama while denying allegations against the Government of Sri Lanka on Rights violations and physical violence against journalists, stated that press would be allowed to visit banned areas once the areas are brought under GoSL control.

Michael Cavanagh from ABC Radio Australia stated that even the Irish Republican Army did not lay down arms before negotiating with the British government. He highlighted that since the GoSL's withdrawal from the cease-fire, monitoring missions, international aid agencies and the United Nations have now left LTTE held areas, asking what that meant for the GoSL's credibility and how the world was to be independently informed of ground realities.

After meeting with Mr Bogollagama on Monday 13 October 2008, the Australian Foreign Minister, Mr Steven Smith, immediately issued a press statement stating that, "Australia's view remains that Sri Lanka's conflict cannot be resolved through military means alone. All parties to the conflict must work towards a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankans," he added.

Sri Lanka has recently intensified its military operations in an attempt to regain territory held by the LTTE. Media personnel are prohibited from visiting LTTE held areas or the frontlines, and rely on press releases by the GoSL.

In June this year, the country's Defence Ministry labelled journalists critical of the GoSL as "enemies of the state", warning it would take "all necessary measures to stop this journalistic treachery against the country". Media rights groups expressed statements of shock and declared the GoSL's statement gave "indirect support and justification for all the recent violence against the press."

Over 20 journalists have been murdered in Sri Lanka, and several more injured in attacks which media rights groups have often blamed on Sri Lanken armed Forces.

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