Voice of Asia Network torched in Sri Lanka

New York, July 30, 2010—Two employees were injured in an arson attack today on the offices of the Voice of Asia Network in the heart of Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo, according to international and local media reports. The fire destroyed the studios of the group’s Siyatha TV station, but the network’s three radio stations have been able to remain on the air.

The Associated Press, quoting a spokesman for the company, said a dozen men, armed with assault rifles and gasoline bombs carried out the attack at 1:30 p.m. (Video of the damage is available here.)

Siyatha TV mainly aired entertainment programming, but the network’s owners had been widely reported to be supporters of the main opposition candidate, ex-army chief Sarath Fonseka, in January’s hard-fought presidential election won by President Mahindra Rajapaksa.

“This attack is more of the same in Sri Lanka—media tied to opposition figures continue to be targeted. Brazen attacks remain an easy option for those who want to hit back at the government’s opposition,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “There have been no prosecutions of any of the many similar attacks under the Rajapaksa government. The opposition media are on their own in Sri Lanka, a reality the international community must address.” 

Friday’s attack was reminiscent of the January 6, 2009, raid on the country’s main independently owned TV station, Sirasa TV, by 15 to 20 armed, masked men who blew up the station’s main control room. There have been no arrests made in that case, and the investigation appears to be stalled, CPJ reported in its special report “In Sri Lanka, no peace dividend for press.”

In November 2008, masked men torched the press room of The Sunday Leader, Morning Leader, and the Irudina Sinhala weekly, damaging presses and copies of the papers. On January 8, 2009, the editor-in-chief of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was killed by eight men on four motorcycles who attacked him with metal and wooden poles after cutting off his car on a busy street just outside Colombo. CPJ has recorded many similar attacks over the years.