Media freedom under threat in Sri Lanka: US

January 24, 2009

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COLOMBO (AFP) — Continuing attacks against journalists in Sri Lanka show the deteriorating conditions media workers face in the country, a statement released by the US embassy here said Saturday.

In the statement, US State Department acting spokesman Robert A. Wood said the United States was appalled by ongoing physical attacks and threats against the media in Sri Lanka, where government troops and locked in combat with Tamil separatist rebels.

It comes a day after the editor of a weekly paper, Upali Tennakoon, was stabbed and wounded outside the capital Colombo while he and his wife drove to work.

Earlier this month another newspaper editor was shot dead near Colombo.

"These serious reports are disturbing indicators of the deteriorating atmosphere for media independence in Sri Lanka," the US statement said.

"We call on the government of Sri Lanka to protect all of its citizens by enforcing law and order, preventing intimidation of the media, and by conducting swift, full, and credible investigations into attacks on journalists and other civilians."

According to official figures, nine journalists have been killed in the past three years, while 27 have been attacked. The government has promised investigations, but no one has been brought to justice.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked foreign diplomats in Colombo to "weigh in forcefully and immediately" to put an end to attacks on Sri Lanka's media.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has asked Sri Lanka's government to drop terrorism charges against another journalist, J. S. Tissainayagam, and two of his colleagues, who have been held since March 2008.

"Tissainayagam's arrest was politically motivated and his detention has involved a litany of due process violations," said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

"The prosecution of journalists only reinforces the impression that the government has embarked on a systematic campaign to smother free media."

Earlier this month, attackers torched a privately owned television station that had been labelled "unpatriotic" by sections of the state media for its coverage of the island's long-running ethnic conflict.