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Media under assault in Sri Lanka

Statements by Committee to Protect Journalists and Centre for Policy Alternatives

by, 8 January 2009

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Committee to Protect Journalists
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Attack On Broadcaster Needs Independent Inquiry

New York, January 6, 2009—Following today’s early morning assault by about 15 masked gunmen on Maharaja TV’s (MTV) studios outside the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, the Committee to Protect Journalists called for an independent, nonpartisan parliamentary board of inquiry to investigate.

Attackers shot at and destroyed broadcast equipment, held staff at gunpoint, and attempted to burn down the station’s facilities, according to local and international news reports. Three TV channels and four radio stations of MTV’s parent company, MBC, were off the air for several hours. MTV’s Web site is still unable to transmit due to the attack. On Sunday, the station was hit with a gasoline bomb, but there was little damage.

In a statement today, Mass Media and Information Minister Anura Yapa condemned the attack and President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered a full investigation.

"Even with its condemnations, the government can longer be trusted to act with impartiality when it comes to those who want to silence Sri Lanka’s media," said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. "Far too often the government or its unofficial allies have been prime suspects behind attacks on journalists and media organizations, and this latest outrage must be fully and clearly explained in an impartial and transparent parliamentary investigation."

In recent days, government-controlled media had accused the station of "unpatriotic" coverage concerning the military’s reported advances against the secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the north of the country. The LTTE’s de facto capital of Kilinochchi fell last Friday. Government troops have been reported to be advancing on the strategic Elephant Pass that links the mainland to the Jaffna peninsula, the LTTE’s stronghold.

Government run-media had specifically criticized MTV for giving too much coverage to a suicide bombing in Colombo on Friday, undermining a victory speech by Rajapaksa after government troops took Kilinochchi, local and international media reported.

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CPA Condemns Brutal Murder Of Senior Journalist Mr. Lasantha Wickremetunge

8th January 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) expresses its outrage and revulsion over the murder of the Editor in Chief of the Sunday Leader newspaper Mr. Lasantha Wickremetunge this morning.

Mr. Wickremetunge was shot and seriously wounded by unknown persons while driving to work in a suburb of Colombo and was pronounced dead at around 2.15pm by hospital authorities.

Just over 48 hours after a major arson attack against private TV broadcaster MBC / MTV Networks that destroyed its Main Control Room and studios, this rampant violence against independent media demonstrates an alarming deterioration of democracy, the rule of law, the freedom of expression and dissent.

Tellingly, Sri Lanka has been repeatedly identified as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for independent journalists. This latest attack of one of Sri Lanka’s best known and most senior journalists confirms fears of a planned terror campaign against critical voices, conducted with complete impunity.

The legitimacy of the war against terror rests on government respecting the norms and values of democracy and human rights, of which the tolerance of criticism is a fundamental facet. Those responsible for this egregious violence are enemies of democracy and become terrorists themselves.