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January is becoming the "Black July" for freedom of press in Sri Lanka

Jan 31, 2011 2:11:37 PM- transcurrents.com

By Karu Jayasuriya

(The following is the statement issued by UNP deputy Leader and Gampaha district Parliamentarian Karu Jayasuriya on the arson attack against the Lanka e-news media organization)

A new chapter has been added to the threat to the freedom of press in this country. Latest addition is setting fire to the Lanka E-news Office in the dawn of 31st January 2011. It is ironic that Lanka E-news is subjected to this fate in the month of January which is considered by the media, as the 'Black July' for the freedom of press since 2006.

This is not the first or the last occasion Lanka E-news has been subjected to threats directly or indirectly. One year has elapsed (on 24th January 2010) after the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, Special Feature writer of Lanka E-news. Lanka E-news office was surrounded by unruly crowds on 29th January 2009, for supporting General Sarath Fonseka during the last Presidential Election. After 2 years and two days since this incident, same office has been set on fire

The owner of the Lanka E-news left the island in the face of death threats aimed at him. It is a known secret that even after the failure to silence Lanka E-news by these acts, several threats were aimed against them for using the building at Rajagiriya as their office. Even with these acts of intimidation no one could prevent Lanka E-news bringing to light news, substantiated with proof.

We believe that the courage and the competence of the staff of Lanka E-news and their ability to face death threats and various other acts of intimidation, has enabled them to continue with their work. By setting fire to the Lanka E-news people have been deprived of their right to express opposing political views and to receive information.

This tragedy is another side of the story which we are facing today under the present regime. These threats were not limited only to Lanka E-news. On 1st January 2006, Lasantha Wickramatunga, Editor of the Sunder Leader, revealed a conspiracy to murder the owner of the "Sirasa" media institution. On 2nd January 2009, Sirasa complex at Depanama was set on fire and destroyed completely.

Even before the commencement of Investigations, a Senior Officer in charge of the security of the country said that the attack on Sirasa complex is an inside job. This was on 6th January. Six days after this incident, on 8th January 2009, Editor of the Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga was murdered.
It didn't stop there, on 24th January 2009, Upali Tennakone, Editor of Rivira newpaper was attacked by thugs. Suspects are still at large. Upali Tennakone who expressed his views against this attack is still living abroad. Instead of finding solutions, the government provided police protection to the editors, which lasted for a short period.

It has become a practice of the government to take the journalist into custody and release them without framing any charges. Mr. Chandana Sirimalwatte, Editor of Lanka newspaper was taken into custody on 28th January 2010. On 16th February of the same year he was released without any charges against him.

On 29th January 2010, government took action to seal the office of Lanka, newspaper of Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, which supported General Sarath Fonseka, Presidential Candidate. On the same day, office of the Lanka E-news which supported Presidential Candidate, Sarath Fonseka was surrounded by mobs. This shows that the government is either ignorant or ignored the fact that some day they will be exposed.

There is another very important fact within these acts. Stability of any country depends on rule of law. When those who are responsible to protect the rule of law, take the law into their hands, civil society is silenced. People are isolated. Rulers become despotic. What is taking place in Algeria and Egypt is an extension of this situation. Therefore it is the inalienable responsibility of the government to rescue the country from this tragedy.