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Arsonists destroy publishing house of critical newspapers

(FMM/IFEX) - The following is an FMM press release:

Leader Publications printing house set on fire, printing machines destroyed

FMM reports with outrage that an unidentified gang set fire to one of the major newspaper printing houses early in the morning of 21 November 2007. The printing press of Leader Publications, which publishes the weekly "The Sunday Leader", the mid weekly "Morning Leader" and the "Sinhala Weekly Irudina", was completely destroyed by the fire.

The printing house was situated at 24 Katukurunduwatta Road, in Rathmalana. The damage is estimated at millions of rupees.

The print run of the 21 November issue of the "Morning Leader" was on when a gang of 15 forced themselves into the printing house. The gang first ordered management and workers to hand over their mobile phones and to kneel down before setting fire to the machines, according to journalists who visited the scene. The 21 November issue of "Morning Leader" is available on-line at:

Recently, the editor of "Morning Leader" has been very critical of the website of "Asia Tribune", which, according to the editor, is working hand-in-hand with the break-away Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) militant group now headed by Pilleyan. She filed a civil defamation case against the website weeks ago and, in retaliation, the website has unleashed a series of articles attacking the "Morning Leader" editor.

The printing press of "The Sunday Leader" was set on fire on a prior occasion, on 17 October 2005 in the run-up to the presidential election. The newspaper and its editor, Mr. Lasantha Wikramatunga, as well as "Morning Leader" editor Sonali Samarasinghe, have been harassed and threatened continuously over the two years prior to this current arson attack. All Leader publications are very critical of the government and exponents of opposition political views.

FMM hold authorities responsible for failing to protect the printing house. The culture of impunity prevailing in this country has prevented any meaningful inquiry into acts of violence against media and journalists that have taken place under this government. The government has failed miserably to uphold and maintain the rule of law as peoples' democratic and human rights are violated.

FMM urges civil and political society members who value freedom of expression to come forward at this time in defence of the right of citizens to information and to a free press in Sri Lanka.

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