Sri Lanka has banned civil activist groups from holding news conferences and training for journalists, with the organisations rejecting the move as unconstitutional.

J.C. Weliamuna, a lawyer from the Civil Society Collective, an umbrella organisation, said the Defence Ministry’s ban is “absolutely unconstitutional” and violates the public’s rights of freedom of association and expression. He called it a “continuation of threats on civil society.”

A government notice dated July 1 asked non-governmental organisations to desist from holding news conferences, workshops, training for journalists and giving away press releases, saying such acts are beyond their mandate. Groups received the notice on Monday.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement that the “order undermines Sri Lanka’s longstanding and proud democratic traditions, including freedom of speech and freedom of assembly.”