The Sri Lankan media watchdog, Free Media Movement (FMM), has condemned a top Defence Ministry official for reportedly threatening an editor of a leading English language daily with dire consequences if she did not stop publishing negative stories about the conduct of the armed forces in the North-Eastern war zone.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, FMM said that it was "outraged" to receive news that the Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had "threatened" Champika Liyanaraachchi, editor of Daily Mirror after he expressed "deep displeasure" over two recent articles on the refugee problem in the North-East in which the Sri Lankan armed forces and the pro-government Tamil militant group headed by Karuna, were shown in poor light.
"He had gone to the extent of saying that Champika should not be surprised if the Karuna faction turned violent against her. In such an eventuality, he said that she should not expect any security from the government to protect her," the FMM said.
It described this as "gross misconduct" and said that it clearly demonstrated the challenges facing free media in Sri Lanka today.
"We strongly feel this latest assault on free media essentially ridicules this government's promises to uphold and strengthen media freedom. Given the volatile situation in the country, the FMM fears that this threat sends a chilling message to the media community at large in Sri Lanka."
Queried by BBC, Information Department official Lakshman Hulugalle said on Tuesday that he was clueless about the incident but added that the Defence Secretary would never issue threats like this.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa reportedly spoke to editor Liyanaraachchi and said that he would look into the incident.