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TV station incinerated; political cartoonist remains missing

Sri Lankan reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda has been missing for 200 days. IFEX members are demanding an investigation.
Sri Lankan reporter and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda has been missing for 200 days. IFEX members are demanding an investigation.

via Groundviews

Under Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's reign, gunmen lob gasoline bombs at television stations, journalists are beaten and hospitalised, independent websites are blocked and repressive new media laws are created. Despite the end of the war last year, repression of the media has not eased, report the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). In a joint action, 23 IFEX members have called on the government to investigate the disappearance of cartoonist and columnist Prageeth Eknaligoda - now missing for 200 days.

The offices of the Voice of Asia Network in the heart of the capital, Colombo, were incinerated by a dozen gunmen with Molotov cocktails on 30 July. The fire destroyed the Network's Siyatha TV studios. Two journalists were held at gunpoint and injured. The station's owner had supported opposition candidate, ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka in January's hard-fought presidential election won by President Rajapaksa.

"Commentators allege that the attack, which occurred close to the main hub of the government and its principal security wings, could not have occurred without the tacit approval of state agencies," according to the IFJ. "We expected... that with the end of the civil war, there would be credible moves to effect a national process of reconciliation and fix accountability for past crimes against journalism."

The government plans to set up a Media Development Authority to promote journalistic ethics and help journalists enhance their skills. But critics say it has been modelled, almost verbatim, after the repressive Singaporean media law. Senior journalists believe it is an attempt to suppress the media which already suffers from high levels of censorship.

This media proposal comes just as journalists are highlighting the abduction of Prageeth Eknaligoda, the online reporter and cartoonist who disappeared on 24 January, two days before the country's presidential elections. FMM and other press groups coordinated a silent protest on 10 August in Colombo, aimed at forcing authorities to investigate Eknaligoda's disappearance. In a joint statement, 23 IFEX members say police have consistently failed to make information related to the case available.

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