Arson attack destroys offices of independent news website
According to information made available to the IFJ, a group of unidentified people broke into the office of the news portal at about 2:00 a.m. on January 31 and set fire to all the fixtures and equipment they could find. Reports received as late as 8:00 a.m. mentioned that the office building was still ablaze and could be completely gutted. The extent of damage caused has been estimated at LKR (Sri Lanka Rupee) 15 million (about USD 135,000).
It has also been reported that Sri Lanka's president, Mahinda Rajapakse, has ordered the Inspector-General of Police to launch an investigation into the arson attack on an urgent basis.
"We are shocked at this incident, which is consistent with a pattern of attempts to intimidate and harass independent media organisations and where those fail, outright attacks on media personnel and premises," IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
Prageeth Eknaligoda, a cartoonist and columnist with LankaENews went missing in January 2010, just days before polls opened in Sri Lanka's presidential elections. He has not yet been found. The editor-in-chief and founder of the news portal, Sendaruwan Senadeera, went into exile in 2010 after being called in for questioning by the police and intelligence services on no fewer than eight occasions in the previous year.
The IFJ has been informed that the attack on the LankaENews offices may have been provoked by two recent reports that it carried. A report on January 24 attributed a recent visit by Rajapakse to the United States - officially described as "private" - to his need for urgent medical treatment for an unexplained ailment. Another report on January 28 featured a classified internal assessment of the Sri Lankan Defence Department, which held that the commander of the national army through the last years of the civil war against Tamil separatists, General Sarath Fonseka, was considered indispensable to the war effort, which contradicts recent court testimony by Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapakse.
The attack on LankaENews came exactly six months after a similar arson attack on the broadcast facilities of the popular news and entertainment channel Siyatha. Those responsible for that incident are yet to be identified.
"The IFJ calls on the Sri Lankan authorities to respond to domestic and global expressions of concern over the pattern of intimidation of independent media, which continues long after the end of the country's civil war," Park said.
"While the President's directive to the police to commence an immediate inquiry is welcome, we greatly hope that this will not go the way of previous such investigations."
What other IFEX members are saying
International Federation of Journalists
Committee to Protect Journalists
Reporters Without Borders