SRI Lanka - The Defence Ministry copies China's rule by issuing Gag order on activists and NGOs...

Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie met a Sri Lankan delegation headed by Secretary of Defence and Urban Development Ministry Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Defence Ministry issued a circular to prevent NGOs from holding press conferences and meetings for journalists. For the authorities, such activity is "unauthorised". Human rights groups say they are ready to disobey the gag order and take to the streets. 

The Defence Ministry is headed by the president's brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who is accused of war crimes.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - Activists and members of civil society groups have strongly condemned a circular issued on Monday by the Defence Ministry, which bans non-governmental organisations from holding "press conferences, workshops, training courses for journalists."

For human rights groups, the gag order is the most invasive measure ever taken by the government since independence. There are no reasons, state of emergency or war, civil or foreign, to justify such a measure in the country. By contrast, Defence Ministry officials have defended the circular saying that NGOs are not authorised to hold press conferences or other media-related practices.

Reacting immediately, activists said that plan to resist the government's restrictions. Speaking at a meeting in the capital today, Brito Fernando, president of the Movement of Families of Disappeared, said that such constraints are nowhere to be found in the registration procedures NGOs must undergo to be able to operate. "This is why we are determined to ignore the circular's content," he added. "We are working for society, for human beings."

For Laksiri Perera, the circular violates the 1978 Constitution and international standards relating to human rights ratified by the Sri Lankan State, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) states that the circular issued by the Ministry headed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa (President Mahinda's brother) is a deliberate insult to the constitution, and sweeps aside the civil rights of NGOs and civil society groups. For this reason, the movement has called on ordinary Sri Lankans to take to the streets to defend "democracy and freedom".

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has joined the appeal. In a statement, the rights organisation said that the order betrays the Defence minister's mind-set who, accused of war crimes, looks at Sri Lanka as "a country of the dead," inhabited by people who should not think, should not speak or even should not dream of criticising the government.

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