Head of IBA says sorry to Sri Lanka

International Bar Association president Desmond Fernando PC has apologised to the Sri Lankan judiciary after it objected to his attack on the country's controversial criminal defamation law.

Fernando launched his attack after a newspaper editor was convicted of criminal defamation. But his calls for the law to be abolished were condemned by the Sri Lankan High Court judges Association, which said they amounted to an affront on the judiciary. Fernando later apologised to the Supreme Court Chief Justice.

“I said I did not mean to contest the judgment or to affront the judge who convicted him,” said Fernando.

But he stressed that he was not apologising for standing up for freedom of information: “I used the editor's conviction to draw attention to fact that freedom of expression should be restored.”

He said that all the editors of independent newspapers in Sri Lanka are vulnerable to criminal defamation charges and that “it is arduous to have a criminal charge hanging over your head if you are editing a newspaper”.

A government-appointed committee headed by leading Sri Lankan lawyers has also recommended abolition of criminal defamation. But, despite pressure from the civil rights movement in Sri Lanka, the government has so far refused to publish the committee's recommendations.