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RSF concerned about new media minister appointment

(RSF/IFEX) - On 5 May 2010, Reporters Without Borders welcomed President Mahinda Rajapaksa's decision to accept Mervyn Silva's resignation as deputy media minister after just 13 days in the position. Called an "arsonist" by the press freedom organisation after his appointment, Silva has been named deputy highways minister instead.

Keheliya Rambukwella, a former government spokesman on defence issues, was meanwhile named media minister.

"Rambukwella's appointment as media minister raises some concerns," Reporters Without Borders said. "During the offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels, he waged an often very violent verbal war against journalists, human rights activists and foreign governments that criticised the way civilians were being treated."

The press freedom organisation added: "We urge Rambukwella to give priority to the case of cartoonist and political reporter Prageeth Eknaligoda, who has been missing for more than 100 days. We also urge the new minister to examine the case of Ruwan Weerakoon, an opposition journalist who has been held since mid-March."

The new minister should also try to get the security forces to identify those responsible for the murders of Sri Lankan journalists. Referring to leading journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge's murder, Rambukwella said in February 2009 that he and the president were aware of the identity of the murderers and would make the facts known on 15 February. No names were released and there has been no significant progress in the investigation since then.

A journalist told Reporters Without Borders that Rambukwella threatened him during a telephone call after a report about a military offensive in the Muttur region at the end of 2005. "He did not like the fact that I had interviewed a Tamil Tiger representative," the journalist said. "A military intelligence officer came to my home a few days later and then, a few months later, I was kidnapped in Colombo."

Rambukwella said in a June 2009 interview that the government had proof that journalists were being paid by the Tamil Tiger rebels to support their activities.

Another Colombo-based journalist said Rambukwella was known for readily giving comments to the press.

Coinciding with Rambukwella's appointment, Sandun Jayasekera, a journalist with the Colombo-based "Daily Mirror" was hit by soldiers and was slightly injured on 5 May during a visit by the president to a hospital in the capital.

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