Human rights group condemns election violence, censorship in Sri Lanka

Place: Sri Lanka | Courtesy: CNN
| Date: 20000914

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- A London-based human rights group on Wednesday condemned the escalation of election-related violence in Sri Lanka and asked the government to lift restrictions on the news media before next month's parliamentary polls.

"The government has an obligation to ensure that elections take place in an atmosphere where a wide range of opinions may be expressed peacefully," said a statement by Andrew Puddephatt, executive director of Article 19.

The independent watchdog group, Center for Monitoring Election Violence, said it has recorded 204 violent incidents believed to be election-related, including six murders, since elections were announced August 18.

President Chandrika Kumaratunga's government banned reporting on military operations against Tamil Tiger rebels in May following the army's reversals in the northern Jaffna Peninsula. Tamil Tiger rebels there overran several army camps in a bid to regain their former capital, Jaffna.

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels have been fighting since 1983 for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east, claiming discrimination by the majority Sinhalese. More than 62,400 people have been killed in the fighting.

Puddephatt said freedom of expression was particularly important during elections, when people need to be able to make informed political choices based on the widest possible range of information. A vote is set for Oct. 10.

A record 5,000 candidates from 29 political parties are running for the 225-seat Parliament.

Meanwhile, opposition parties are accusing the government of pressuring Election Commissioner Dayananda Dissanayake to resign because of his plans to mark voting cards with stickers to prevent fraud.

Members of President Kumaratunga's Cabinet have criticized Dissanayake's sticker plan, saying he did not consult them. The government has made no comment on the opposition charge that it wants Dissanayake to resign.

Dissanayake said in a statement that he had obtained police protection through a special request to the defense secretary.