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Sri Lanka 19 April 2007

Defence secretary threatens editor and journalist on Daily Mirror
Appeal to Pope Benedict XVI on eve of meeting with President Mahinda Rajapakse

Reporters Without Borders today strongly condemned threats made by Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, younger brother of the president, against the editor of the Daily Mirror, Champika Liyanaarachchi. The minister also threatened to "exterminate" a journalist on the newspaper, for writing articles about the plight of civilian victims of the war.

Calling on the scretary to apologise to Champika Liyanaarachchi and Uditha Jayasinghe, the worldwide press freedom organisation said it had written to Pope Benedict XVI, urging him to intervene with President Mahinda Rajapakse at their meeting in Italy, in support of press freedom in the country and in particular about the latest threats.

The secretary called the editor on her mobile phone on 17 April to complain about the Daily Mirror’s editorial stance on the civil war, citing in particular an article it carried on 16 April which he saw as hostile to the government. He told her that the pro-government Tamil militia, "Karuna faction", could take revenge on her over the article, in which case, he told her, the government would not be able to protect her.

The secretary called on her to resign so as to avoid being targeted for reprisals. He told her he would put pressure on the paper’s management to obtain her dismissal. Finally, he said he would "exterminate" journalist Uditha Jayasinghe. She had written a number of articles on the plight of civilians displaced by the conflict in the east of the country.

President Rajapakse contacted Liyanaarachchi hours later to assure her that he was going to order an investigation. The following day, the British High Commissioner in Colombo, Dominick Chilcott, went to the Daily Mirror offices to express his solidarity. This gesture angered the defence secretary who summoned the diplomat to a meeting in his office in Colombo.

"Making such vicious threats against two journalists, one of whom is the first female editor of a daily newspaper in the history of the Sri Lankan press, is unworthy of a Defence secretary and a danger to the entire profession," Reporters Without Borders said.

Harassing independent journalists also damages the credibility of the head of state," it added.

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