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23 Jan 2009 11:17
Assailants beat a Sri Lanka newspaper editor and smashed his car as he drove to work on Friday, colleagues said, in the latest of a string of violent attacks against journalists in the country.
Upali Tennakoon, chief editor of the privately-owned Rivira weekly, and his wife were attacked by four men on two motorcycles who blocked his car at Imbulgoda, outside the capital, Colombo, a reporter on his paper said.
“They smashed the windscreen and then started attacking us,” his wife, Dhammika, said as they were brought to the Colombo National Hospital.
“I hugged him tight as they started hitting us with sticks ,” she said, adding that the attackers escaped. The hospital said the pair were out of danger.
Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayake condemned the attack and said the authorities were investigating.
“The government strongly condemns this attack on the Rivira editor,” the prime minister said.
It came two weeks after another editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was shot dead as he drove to his office.
Wickrematunga had been a staunch critic of the government’s war against the Tamil Tiger rebels.
Since his murder at least eight journalists and prominent media rights activists have fled the country, fearing they would be targeted.
According to official figures, nine journalists had been killed in the past three years while 27 have been attacked.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has asked foreign diplomats in Colombo to “weigh in forcefully and immediately” with President Mahinda Rajapakse to put an end to attacks raining down on Sri Lanka’s media.
The CPJ said the brutality of the recent attacks was a clear indicator of how the war on the Sri Lankan media has moved far beyond the use of threats, intimidation, legal harassment and sporadic violence.
Human Rights Watch also asked Sri Lanka’s government to drop terrorism charges against another journalist, JS 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 ethnic conflict.—AFP
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