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Amnesty: Sri Lanka gov't acting harsher on critics

(AP) Amnesty: Sri Lanka gov't acting harsher on critics
By BHARATHA MALLAWARACHI
Associated Press
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka
The Sri Lankan government is intensifying a crackdown on critics by sanctioning abuses often committed by security forces or their proxies, Amnesty International said Tuesday.

Journalists, the judiciary, human rights activists and opposition politicians are among those targeted in a pattern of threats, harassment, imprisonment and violent attacks, the report said.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government promotes an official attitude that equates opposition with treason, the human rights group said.

"Violent repression of dissent and the consolidation of political power go hand in hand in Sri Lanka," said Polly Truscott, Amnesty's deputy director for the Asia Pacific region, in the statement accompanying the report.

The Sri Lankan government gave no immediate comment on the report, but it has previously rejected similar accusations.

"There is a real climate of fear in Sri Lanka, with those brave enough to speak out against the government often having to suffer badly for it," Truscott added.

Amnesty says the government started consolidating power immediately after the military defeated the separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, ending a prolonged civil war in 2009.

A constitutional amendment pushed through by Rajapaksa's ruling coalition in 2010 boosted the president's control over the judiciary, police and elections officials, while eliminating term limits for the presidency.

At the same time, government critics have been harassed, attacked and sometimes killed, Amnesty said, detailing dozens of such cases, both before and after 2009.

Amnesty also said the government undermined the judiciary's independence "by making threats against judges who rule in favor of victims of human rights violations."

In January, Parliament impeached Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake while not complying with court orders that called into question the fairness of the process. Rajapaksa appointed a close aide as the new chief justice.

Amnesty also cited intimidation against journalists. The report said at least 15 have been killed since 2006 and others were forced to flee the country.

While much of Sri Lankan media is firmly in the hands of the government, authorities have targeted independent outlets that have criticized government policies or conduct.

Two weeks ago, the Tamil language Uthayan newspaper in the former war zone said it was attacked by armed men who set fire to printing machines and newspapers that were ready for distribution. It was the second attack in a month, and publisher E. Saravanapavan suspected that the attack was carried out by the military or a paramilitary group due to a report that criticized the military.

The government, however, said the attack was orchestrated by the newspaper itself to embarrass the government.

The government has denied in the past that journalists and critics were abducted by suspected pro-government militia, and it claimed instead they actually hid themselves to embarrass the government and claim asylum overseas.

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