Press freedom campaigner beaten as Sri Lanka tries to silence the media

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Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

From

June 2, 2009


 prominent Sri Lankan press freedom campaigner was abducted and beaten in Colombo yesterday in the latest in a string of assaults on government critics.

Poddala Jayantha, the secretary of the Sri Lankan Working Journalists, said that he was pushed into a van by a gang of men, who beat him and shaved his beard and hair before dumping him by the roadside. He suffered head and leg injuries.

Mr Jayantha returned to Sri Lanka only a few weeks ago after repeated threats and intimidation, including an attempt by an armed gang to abduct him from his home, forced him to flee.

At least 20 Sri Lankan journalists have fled after receiving death threats and 14 have been killed since the beginning of the military campaign to crush the Tamil Tiger rebels in 2006. Others have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured or disappeared while in custody.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, was posthumously awarded the Unesco World Press Freedom Award for 2009.

After he was shot his brother retrieved a laptop computer on which Wickrematunge had written an editorial predicting his murder and blaming it on the Government.

Police have yet to arrest anyone for the killing of any of the 14 journalists.

Press freedom in Sri Lanka has shrunk since 2006. Reporters without Borders expressed alarm at the statement by Sarath Fonseka, the army chief, last week, in which he cautioned that journalists who visited areas formerly controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels would be prosecuted.

Journalists still have no free access to the camps where 270,000 Tamil civilians have been interned.