For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
SLanka journalists protest arson attack on website
COLOMBO (AFP) – Dozens of Sri Lankan journalists took to the capital’s streets Tuesday to condemn an arson attack on an independent website that was blamed by its editor on the government.
Reporters, photographers and employees of privately-run media joined a demonstration in central Colombo a day after the arson attack on the office of the Lankaenews.com website.
“Lanka E-News, the latest victim of media suppression,” said a placard carried by one protester. “Condemn arson attack,” said another.
Unidentified attackers set ablaze the LEN office, destroying its computers and library, but the website — which is based abroad — was up and running Tuesday.
Its editor, Sandaruwan Senadeera, who fled to Britain after receiving death threats, said he believed a powerful section of the government was behind the attack.
“There is a concerted effort by the government to silence websites which are not supporting them,” Senadeera told AFP by telephone from London. “The situation for the media in Sri Lanka is going from bad to worse.”
He added: “A powerful section of the government has carried out this attack.”
The website had three days earlier published an intelligence report which questioned the evidence the country’s defence secretary, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, who is also the president’s brother, had given in court recently.
LEN’s Sri Lanka-based news editor, Bennet Rupasinghe, said he did not expect an investigation announced by President Mahinda Rajapakse to be fair.
“I can’t point a finger and say it is the work of so and so, but we have been very critical and have exposed some corrupt ministers recently,” Rupasinghe told AFP during Tuesday’s demonstration.
“What I can say is that this attack is not the work of the opposition or of any ordinary person.”
Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has said the attack was the work of people trying to discredit the government.
Another contributor to LEN, Prageeth Eknaligoda, disappeared two days before the January 2010 presidential election in what is assumed to be an abduction case.
A total of 17 journalists and media employees have been killed in Sri Lanka in the past decade, prompting to rights groups to say many local reporters exercise self-censorship to avoid confrontations with the authorities.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said attacks against journalists and news organisations have continued in Sri Lanka despite the end of the country’s civil war in May 2009.
“The litany of arson attacks, assaults, disappearances, and outright killing of journalists that have gone unaddressed under President Rajapakse make it necessary for the international community to act,” CPJ’s Bob Dietz said.
“The responsibility falls to the UN to lead an effective international response to a government that has failed to protect journalists, and is itself a viable suspect in many of these acts.”
The LEN attack appeared similar to the July burning of private television station, Siyatha, in Colombo.