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Sri Lanka 20 October 2005

Arson attack on independent media group’s printing press

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about increasing harassment of Sri Lanka’s independent news media in the run-up to a presidential election on 17 November, condemning a 16 October arson attack on the printing press of a media group that publishes two weeklies critical of the government, the English-language Sunday Leader and Sinhalese-language Irudina.

“We call on the authorities to put a stop to these acts of intimidation against independent media in order to allow journalists to work freely and ensure diversity in the press coverage of the election campaign,” the press freedom organisation said.

Around seven or eight armed individuals entered the printing press in Ratmalana, near Colombo, at about 8 p.m. on 16 October, according to the police and employees present at the time. They hit and threatened publication manager S. A. Dias, demanded that printing of the newspapers should stop, and set fire to 40 bundles of newspapers before leaving. The employees were able to put the fire out before it could spread to the presses.

In recent years, the Sunday Leader has developed a reputation for investigative reporting that has often upset President Chandrika Kumaratunga’s government, and it has been the target of threats or violence on more than one occasion in the past.

There was a murder attempt on its editor, Lasantha Wikramatunga, in 1998, while Dias wrote to the police chief in May saying his life was in danger as a result of threats from a pro-government parliamentarian who was accusing him of supporting the Tamil Tigers.

The police say they are investigating the attacks.

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