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Sri Lankan editor of private newspaper dismissed

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Colombo, 21.9.12 - The new owner of the Sunday Leader has sacked editor Frederica Jansz just two months after she received death threats from Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, and five months after ARTICLE 19 warned the UN human rights body that the president's affiliates were buying up the private media in order to take editorial control over all critical voices in the country.

“The sacking of Frederica Jansz – one of the few remaining independent journalists critical of the government still in the country – is terrible news for the Sri Lankan media. We warned the UN in April that affiliates of the president appeared to be buying up the private media in order to control their editorial lines, resulting in a severely reduced debate in a country that has only just emerged from conflict,” said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 Executive Director.

“Worse still is that Frederica Jansz received death threats from the president's brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, just two months ago. Rather than investigating and taking a stance against threats of violence, they've instead focused their energy on further undermining her, and freedom of expression in general,” she added.

In the shadow report for the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka – due in October 2012, ARTICLE 19 highlighted that media diversity and press freedom are under threat in Sri Lanka where affiliates of the president appear to be buying newspapers that criticise the government, in order to censor them.

Jansz told the Colombo Telegraph, an online newspaper run by exiled Sri Lankan journalists, that she had told the Sunday Leader's new owner, Asanga Seneviratne, that she would resign rather than prevent her reporters from reporting about and criticising the government.

Jansz was threatened with death in July 2012. She was conducting an interview over the phone with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he told her: “You pig that eats shit! You shit shit dirty fucking journalist! […] People will kill you! People hate you! They will kill you!”

The Sunday Leader and its journalists have until now faced regular attack. The newspaper's editor, Lasantha Wickramatunge, was assassinated on his way to work on 8 January 2009. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for the crime.

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