New York, November 21, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned an arson attack on a publishing house in Sri Lanka today that destroyed the printing press of three newspapers critical of the government.
At least 12 unidentified masked men stripped publishing staff of their cell phones at gunpoint before starting the blaze and fleeing the scene in the early hours of the morning as one of the three papers went to press, according to Free Media Movement spokesman Sunanda Deshapriya. The press in Ratmalana, a suburb of the capital of Colombo, was located in a high security zone tightly controlled by Sri Lankan government security forces.
The English-language Morning Leader and Sunday Leader, and the Sinhala-language weekly Irudina are known for their critical stances towards Sri Lankan authorities. Lasantha Wickrematunga, editor of the Sunday Leader, told journalists he believed the government was behind the attack, according to news reports.
“We are appalled by this act of violence against three independent Sri Lankan publications,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “It’s time official inquiries into press attacks in Sri Lanka yielded some results, to counteract the message that critical newspapers can be threatened with impunity.”
Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa ordered an inquiry into the attack, but results of similar inquiries launched in the past two years have yet to be made public, Deshapriya told CPJ.
An arson attempt against the same publishing house was prevented in 2005.
The three papers will find another private printing press and continue to publish, Deshapriya said.