For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

United States condemns attacks on Sri Lankan TV station and radio broadcaster

By: Krishan Francis, The Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The U.S. Embassy on Saturday condemned attacks on a Sri Lankan television station saying such acts imperil media freedom in the country.

A dozen men armed with assault rifles and petrol bombs attacked the offices of privately owned Voice of Asia Network at pre-dawn Friday.

The television management said the assailants assaulted security guards before setting fire to the building that houses the TV station, destroying its studios, control room and library. One guard and another employee were injured.

The attack comes after Prageeth Eknaligoda — a journalist critical of the government — was reported missing in January and suspected of having been abducted. His fate is still not known.

“This attack, together with the unsolved disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda and other acts of violence against the press, serves to intimidate journalists and to further imperil media freedoms in Sri Lanka,” the American embassy said in a statement.

The Sri Lankan government said on its website it ordered a police investigation into the “reported fire.”

Jimmy Deen, a spokesman for the news company, said Friday he couldn’t think of any reason for the attack.

Voice of Asia Network’s owners backed the main opposition candidate, ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka, in January’s bitterly fought presidential election.

Eknaligoda also supported Fonseka, and he disappeared two days before the election.

“If the government does not arrest those culprits (in Friday’s incident), we are compelled to believe that the government is either directly or indirectly responsible for such attacks,” Gnanasiri Kottigoda, president of local media rights group Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, said Friday.

Fonseka lost the election, and he and many supporters were arrested after the vote. Fonseka faces a court-martial for allegedly planning his political career while in the army — a crime in Sri Lanka.

Fonseka’s supporters say President Mahinda Rajapaksa is punishing the general for daring to challenge him.

Media rights groups say Sri Lanka is among the most dangerous places for dissenting journalists. Amnesty International says at least 14 Sri Lankan media workers have been killed since the beginning of 2006.

A similar attack to Friday’s took place last year on another television station critical of the government. No arrests have been made over the killings or attacks.

July 2010
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