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Sri Lanka 17 October 2006

State newspaper editor fired for criticising president

Reporters Without Borders voiced dismay today at the unfair dismissal of Sunday Observer editor Rajpal Abenayaka, reportedly because of a column he wrote on 8 October about comments that President Mahinda Rajapakse made to Sri Lankan diplomats.

"The well-known editor of a state-owned newspaper has been fired just after an international press freedom mission went to Sri Lanka and, among other things, called for the state media to be allowed more editorial independence," Reporters Without Borders said.

"This kind of sanction shows to what degree the state media are under the thumb of the government," the press freedom organisation added. "Instead of sidelining critical editorialists, the president should concentrate on taking measures to resolve the serious crisis sweeping Sri Lanka and to ensure the safety of the media, which have repeatedly been the target of violence."

The management of the state-owned ANCL press group asked Abenayaka to submit his resignation as the English-language weekly Sunday Observer editor in writing on 10 October. After he refused, a new editor was appointed and Abenayaka was offered the post of consultant.

He told Reporters Without Borders: "This is a wrongful termination of my post as the editor. Tomorrow I am going to formally inform the management that I will not accept the post of consultant which they have offered me now."

Abenayaka, who is also a lawyer, left the privately-owned Wijeya Newspapers press group after Rajapakse won last year’s presidential election.

The editorial that caused offence, headlined "A state demoralizing its ’troops’, when it needs to inspire them," can still be read at this address on the newspaper’s website: Sunday Observer

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