01/21/2009, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Government cronies behind murder of journalists

by Melani Manel Perera
Vincent Brossel, Asia-Pacific chief for Reporters without Borders, points finger. He slams political repression of the media, excluding any involvement by Tamil Tiger rebels. The Catholic editor of the Meepura newspaper receives death threats. Five journalists leave the country fearing for the lives.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – The editor of a newspaper has received death threats and journalists have left the country fearing for the lives as fear grips Sri Lanka’s media that are currently subjected to a campaign of political repression that culminated in the murder on 8 January of Lasantha Manilal Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader. The warning comes from Vincent Brossel, Asia-Pacific chief for Reporters without Borders (RSF).

In an appeal to the government he called on the authorities to stop the flight of journalists abroad as a result of political repression in the country.

According to Mr Brossel the Tamil Tiger rebels are not responsible for the attacks against the country’s media. In his view a drive is underway to silence those who are opposed to or critical of the government.

Freddy Gamage is the latest example.  A Catholic and editor of Meepura, he too has recently received death threats. On 17 January the mayor of Negombo, a town some 25 kilometres from the capital, phoned him to say that gangs of thugs had issued threats against him.

“I was told by the mayor of Negombo to stop my writings; otherwise I would surely be killed,” the editor said, who is also involved in human rights.

Meepura is no longer available on newsstands in the city because of the threats,” he explained.

After Sunday Leader editor was killed at least five journalists left the country, including Chevaan Daniel, head of MTV/MBC, local sources said.

For RSF’s Vincent Brossel politicians in Colombo are directly responsible for media repression.

Journalists working for major media “are not leaving the island to escape poverty” or “LTTE threats” but because “of government cronies increasing their pressure.”

A “climate of fear” prevails in Sri Lanka, he lamented.

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