US demands protection for Sri Lanka journalists

COLOMBO (AFP) - The United States on Monday urged Sri Lanka to crack down on harassment of journalists and protect their rights after organisers of a US-funded media workshop for Tamils received death threats.

The US embassy in Colombo said it had raised the issue with the Sri Lankan administration after pro-government protesters stormed the workshop for ethnic minority Tamil journalists on the weekend, in the latest incident of media intimidation.

"These events continue a troubling pattern of impunity for those who interfere with both freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Sri Lanka," the embassy said in a statement.

"We have raised our concerns with the government of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan embassy in Washington, and strongly urged the government to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of fundamental rights for journalists and for all Sri Lankans."

The embassy said it was also concerned about "threats and intimidation by security forces against journalists" covering court proceedings last week for Sri Lankan navy sailors accused of raping an 11-year-old girl.

The country's main media rights group, the Free Media Movement, said dozens of pro-government activists blocked Tamil journalists from holding its training programme in Colombo on Saturday.

Journalists from the northern Jaffna peninsula, a former war zone, had travelled to Colombo for the electronic media workshop funded by the US.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said organisers had received death threats in the lead up to the workshop.

The group has accused Sri Lanka of keeping up a policy of harassing journalists despite the end of fighting between Tamil rebels and the largely Sinhalese army in 2009.

Colombo faces an international investigation over allegations government forces killed about 40,000 Tamil civilians in the final months of fighting, a charge Colombo has long denied.

Murders of more than a dozen journalists and media workers during the decades-long war have remained unsolved for the past 25 years.