Arsonists destroy printing house in Sri Lanka

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is dismayed at reports that an unidentified gang set fire to the Leader Publications printing house that publishes the Sunday Leader, the mid-weekly Morning Leader and Sinhala Weekly Irudina in the Rathmalana district of Colombo.

The Free Media Movement (FMM), an IFJ affiliate, said 15 people forced entry into the printing house during the print run for today’s issue of Morning Leader. Journalists who visited the scene were told that the gang first forced management and workers to hand over their mobile phones and kneel down, before they set the machines alight.

The FMM reports that the recent critical position and civil defamation case taken by Morning Leader editor against the Asia Tribune website is the likely motive for the attack.

The fire completely destroyed the printing house. The damage is estimated at millions of rupees. In a similar attack in 2005, the Sunday Leader printing press was set on fire in the run up to the presidential election.

"This vicious attack underscores the dangers faced by the media in Sri Lanka," said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park. "The authorities must take immediate action to locate and punish the attackers. Journalism cannot flourish as long as this level of violence is tolerated."

Meanwhile, the IFJ is also concerned for the safety of Mr Vadivel Nimalarajah, a proofreader for the Jaffna-based Uthayan newspaper, who was reported missing on November 17.

The FMM has received information from its safety network sources in Jaffna that Mr Nimalarajah was adbucted by an unidentified group at a railway crossing around 7:30am as he was cycling home.

Uthayan management told FMM it believed Mr Nimalarajah may be being held in the office of a paramilitary group in Jaffna. Uthayan has come under tremendous pressure in the past two years with three of its staff shot dead, its computer section destroyed and its newsprint stores  set on fire in targeted attacks.

The editor of Uthayan, Mr M.V. Kanamailnathan has been living in the newspaper’s office for more than a year, and the news editor, Mr.G. Kuganathan, has lived there for more than six months for fear of going outside.

The IFJ joins the FMM in urging the Government of Sri Lanka to take immediate action to rescue Mr Nimalarajah, and to bring to account those responsible for the continuous threats against Uthayan and Leader Publications.

“The arson attack and the disappearance of Mr Nimalarajah are of extreme concern and underline yet again why Sri Lanka has a reputation as one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world,” said IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park.

“The Sri Lankan government must put a stop to this culture of impunity that is paralysing media freedom in all regions of the country,” she said.

For more information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 120 countries