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A man tries to access a blocked website – File photo by AFP
A man tries to access a blocked website – File photo by AFP

COLOMBO: An international rights group on Saturday called on Sri Lanka to stop “harassing” media organisations, a day after police shut down opposition news websites for allegedly carrying false reports.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Friday’s crackdown against two websites linked to the island’s main opposition signalled that Colombo did not tolerate dissent.

“Friday’s raid shows that President Mahinda Rajapakse’s government remains determined to silence opposition voices,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia programme coordinator.

“Authorities should heed the many public appeals urging them to reverse this years-long policy of quashing media criticism of the government and military.    The CPJ calls on Sri Lanka to immediately stop harassing news outlets.”

Seven local media organisations, including the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, also condemned the closure of the Lanka Mirror and Lanka X News offices housed in the same building in Colombo.

The two websites that were shut down have been highly critical of Rajapakse’s government.

The government is already facing international censure over its human rights record and a string of unsolved murders of journalists and attacks on independent media.

“The criminal investigations department sealed the offices of two websites carrying false and vulgar reports,” the ministry said in a statement on Friday.

“People responsible for feeding information to the Internet through this office are being investigated,” it added, without giving details.

Rights groups and employees said the Lanka X News was the official news organ of the opposition United National Party (UNP), while the other website was closely linked to the UNP.