(Reuters) - Sri Lanka has banned activist groups and NGOs from holding press conferences and issuing press releases, a Defence Ministry circular says, raising new concerns over freedom of expression in the island nation. The circular, dated July 1, also outlaws NGOs and civil society organizations holding workshops for journalists. "This is a continuation of threats on civil society," J.C. Weliamuna, head of Transparency International in Sri Lanka and a human rights lawyer, told reporters.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's government is under international pressure to account for suspected war crimes and human rights abuses during the war against separatist Tamil Tiger rebels which ended in 2009.
Weliamuna said most civil organizations had taken the position that the circular was against the constitution which grants freedom of association and expression.
"This directive is not based on any legal provision. This is the directive of some public servant and no one is bound by this," he said. "We will consider taking legal action."
The United States in a statement urged the government to allow civil society organizations and NGOs to operate freely.
The main opposition United National Party (UNP) said Defence Ministry, headed by the president's brother, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, was trying to militarize the country.
"The ministry of defense that has stamped out civil liberties in unprecedented ways in the post-war era is well on the way to creating a military state in Sri Lanka," Karu Jayasuriya, a senior UNP member, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Ranga Sirilal; Writing by Shihar Aneez; Editing by Nick Macfie)