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Sri Lanka's NGO crackdown triggers free speech fears

Published on Jul 20, 2014 10:16 AM
 
Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapakse prays during a religious ceremony at the 76 million dollar oil tank farm at the southern deep sea port of Hambantota on June 22, 2014. A Sri Lankan government crackdown this month on NGOs has sparked claims that President Mahinda Rajapakse, paranoid that he could be toppled, is again attempting to silence critics and tighten his grip on power. -- PHOTO: AFP

COLOMBO (AFP) - A Sri Lankan government crackdown this month on NGOs has sparked claims that President Mahinda Rajapakse, paranoid that he could be toppled, is again attempting to silence critics and tighten his grip on power.

The defence ministry this month banned non-governmental organisations from holding press conferences, awareness campaigns, training for journalists, workshops and disseminating press releases on everything from voter rights to exposing corruption.

The ministry, which has regulated local and foreign NGOs since soon after the end of the island's civil war in 2009, said the order was necessary to stop them operating "beyond their mandate".

But NGO workers, many of whom have long suffered harassment and intimidation in Sri Lanka, said the order was a new crackdown on dissenting voices ahead of possible snap presidential elections.

 
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