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Sri Lanka revives media regulator that can jail journalists

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Sri Lanka’s revival of a media regulatory group that empowers the government to imprison or fine journalists is raising concerns from international press freedom groups.

President Maithripala Sirisena made new appointments last week to the council he dissolved following his shock election victory in January over strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa, who had applied tight controls over media.

Sirisena lifted media restrictions, allowing journalists more space to criticize the government. He also freed the state-run media, which until then promoted the ruling party, to allocate space for the opposition as well.

The president has not explained his latest move.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a statement Tuesday that Sirisena’s revival of the council calls into question his commitment to democratic reforms.

The council prohibits publication of what is deemed official secrets, certain military matters, and fiscal, exchange or import control measures being considered by the government.

Anyone found guilty of such offenses could be sentenced to a maximum of two years in prison, a fine or both.

“This decision comes from a government that lifted Sri Lankans’ hopes that their country was ready to make a genuine effort to move away from the hostile environment that has surrounded the media for years,” said Bob Dietz, the group’s Asia program coordinator.

Rajapaksa’s tenure was a dangerous time for journalists with numerous killings, forced disappearances and assaults. No one has been prosecuted in relation to these cases.

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