Anti govt news portal torched in Sri Lanka

Unidentified men torched the office of a website known for its critical stories against the government early today, damaging the building and destroying equipment worth lakhs.
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Updated on Jan 31, 2011 12:55 PM IST
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Hindustan Times | BySutirtho Patranobis Sutirtho Patranobis, Colombo

Unidentified men torched the office of a website known for its critical stories against the government early on Monday, damaging the building and destroying equipment worth lakhs.

Initial reports said the men broke into the office of LankaeNews.com located in Malabe, a Colombo suburb, soon after 1 am. Then they systematically destroyed computers and photographic equipment before setting the one storey building on fire.

"They destroyed the library which had many rare books and newspapers which were many years old," news editor Benner Rupasinghe told Hindustan Times.

In July last year, the office of a television company was attacked in a similar way. The website has come under several threats in the past few years; one of its senior journalists, Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared without a trace on January 24 last year, two days before the Presidential election.

"We have been writing many stories; against ministers, against bureaucrats. We have exposed many scandals," Rupasinghe said, adding that the eight member organisation was run on a tight budget and was unable even to afford a security guard.

"Fourteen journalists have been killed since 2006, three have disappeared, and more than 30 have fled the country. Journalists, writers and performers remaining in the country are constantly threatened, physically attacked or cowed by legislation under which they can be jailed them for up to 20 years simply for what they write," the Paris based 'Reporters without Borders' said in a recent statement on Sri Lanka.

Gnanasiri Kottigoda, president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists' Association, was quoted by Associated Press as having said that Monday's attack as an "extension" of the anti media violence of the recent past.

“These are well planned attacks and the authorities have not taken any interest in investigating,” he said. "This raises the question whether the government is responsible directly or indirectly."

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, meanwhile, has instructed the police to carry out an investigation into the attack. But not many will be confident about its outcome; no arrests have been made in connection with any attack against journalists.

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