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RSF concerned over spate of threats to print media

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders urges the Sri Lankan authorities to take all necessary measures to investigate threatening letters received by Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushtaq, two journalists who work for the Leader Publications media group. "We will slice you up if you do not stop your writing," the letters said.

At the same time, senior newspaper employees have been questioned by the police about their sources in a new attack on editorial independence.

"The police must treat these death threats written in red ink with the utmost seriousness, especially as they were sent to two journalists whose press group has repeatedly been the target of physical violence," Reporters Without Borders said. "We urge the police to track down and arrest those who wrote these letters."

The press freedom organisation added: "It is also vital that the authorities order the security forces to put a stop to their unwarranted summonses and arrests of journalists, and to register the complaints submitted by journalists when they are physically attacked."

Jansz, the editor-in-chief of the "Sunday Leader" newspaper, plans to go police headquarters in Mount Lavinia (just to the south of Colombo) to file a complaint about the threatening letters that she and Mushtaq received on 22 October 2009. The threats may have been prompted by the newspaper's coverage of a video showing Sri Lankan soldiers executing unarmed men.

Jansz told Reporters Without Borders the letters were similar to those received by "Sunday Leader" managing editor Lasantha Wickrematunge three weeks before he was murdered in January 2009. "We wrote to the police station describing the threats but the police have not even contacted me (. . .) The 'Sunday Leader''s publisher mentioned these persistent threats at a meeting with the president a few months ago. The president told one of his aides to follow up the matter, but since then there has been nothing."

Jansz and Leader Publications are currently facing three complaints brought by the president's brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, one of which accuses her of contempt of court for publishing a profile of him in the weekly after a judge ordered the press group not to publish anything about him. The defence ministry's website has meanwhile accused the press group's lawyers of being traitors while another site linked to the ministry referred to some of Jansz's comments to foreign news media as "prostitution".

In a separate case, Chandana Sirimalwatta, editor of the newspaper "Lanka Irida", was detained and questioned by Colombo police on 17 October about his sources for an article on the tension between the president and the head of the armed forces, Gen. Sarath Fonseka. The previous day, the police had gone to the newspaper's headquarters to arrest Sirimalwatta.

On 20 October, the government information office threatened to "blacklist" online media that speculated about tension within the government.

Meanwhile, several weeks earlier, on 4 October, ruling party activists attacked journalists who were accompanying opposition members as they tried to approach a "palatial residence" allegedly built by a member of the president's family with public funds. Five journalists were slightly hurt. One of them told Reporters Without Borders that police at the Matara police station refused to register his complaint.

A few days earlier, three "Lanka Irida" reporters were arrested near this residence on "terrorism charges". They were later released on bail but their equipment was confiscated.

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