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Sri Lanka 13 April 2007

Call for press group finance chief to be freed

Reporters Without Borders called today for the immediate release of a top official of the firm publishing the Sinhalese-language weekly Mawbima and accused the government of misusing the country’s anti-terrorism law to crack down on critical media.

The financial director of publishing firm Standard Newspaper Private Limited (SNPL), Dushantha Basnayake, was arrested at his office on 26 February under this law and the firm’s accounts were frozen a month ago.

"Some government members are determined to get revenge on the paper and have insulted Sri Lanka’s journalists,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “No evidence has been presented against Basnayake.” It also called for the firm’s accounts to be unfrozen so the paper could reappear as soon as possible.

The accounts of the firm CBE, controlled by Tiran Alles, owner of Mawbima, were frozen on 8 and 9 March and those of SNPL on 13 March. This forced the paper first to reduce its print-run and then shut down both Mawbima and the weekly Sunday Standard on 28 March.

Health minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said publicly on 6 April that journalists were behaving like “mad dogs” and should be “vaccinated” as dogs were against rabies.

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