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Journalists' home ransacked

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

Two journalists intimidated

The Free Media Movement expresses its serious concern over the ransacking of the residence of two well-known journalists by an unknown gang on 16 March 2008. The two journalists - Sunethra Athugalpura of "Lakbima" newspaper and her husband, Sirasa TV News Producer Sashi Kumara - told FMM that they cannot think of any personal reasons for this burglary, adding that they do not have any personal enemies.

According to Kumara, the gangsters ransacked his home, scattering books and files belonging to him and his family. Nothing was stolen from the residence and, therefore, the incident could be considered an act of intimidation, Kumara told the news media.

Kumara was in Pakistan for a month covering the February elections and had returned home just two days earlier, on 14 March. He has also covered the war in the northern and eastern provinces, highlighting the situation of victims of the war, including refugees.

Atugalpura, a political reporter, has covered many controversial issues, including interviewing MP Mervyn Silva after the recent incident at the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.

Whatever the motive may be, FMM agrees with journalists that this could definitely be an act of intimidation and a warning related to their independent reporting.

Given the environment of unofficial censorship imposed by various sectors of the government and the continuing threats, assaults and intimidation of journalists and the media by state and non-state actors in Sri Lanka today, FMM reiterates that it is the duty of the government to take immediate steps to create an enabling environment for media practitioners to perform their duties without fear of retaliation. As long as the culture of impunity reigns, there will be no end to intimidation of the media in Sri Lanka. The government has willingly or unwillingly failed to establish the rule of law with respect to any single attack on media. FMM is compelled to say that what the country needs today is not presidential statements saying that the country is overflowing with media freedom, but the rule of law.

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