Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sri Lanka (Ceylon for boomers) is sealed off from reporters and the Internet

Image: The southern tip of India and Sri Lanka

Invisible Boundary in the Internet Age
By Emily Wax
Washington Post Foreign Service
February 12, 2009
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka

The men looked sleepy as they slumped in their chairs in the afternoon heat, watching the Scooby Doo cartoon. Their boss, Kusal Perera, the head of a Web site that has been critical of the Sri Lankan government's war, sighed.

His news site,, had to be closed down, one of many media outlets that has been made to censor itself, especially after the death of Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga, 52, a critic of his country's government.

Wickramatunga's murder was seen as part of a growing pattern of intimidation by the government, according to Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists. It all happened during a recent push to wipe out the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, or Tamil Tigers, in a war that has persisted for more than two decades, one of the world's longest-running conflicts.

"There were immediate threats to us," Perera told me. He shook my hand for a long time and later tried to hug several visiting journalists in a show of solidarity. "In this modern world, we thought there could no longer be an island with the Internet and text messages. But in Sri Lanka it has really happened. And it's such a pity for those civilians who are suffering."

I knew that coming to this beautiful, palm-fringed Indian Ocean nation to cover what has been characterized as the end of the war would actually be tough: how much information would we have access to? The war zone had been sealed. Would we be able to interview the civilians?