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Sri Lankan paper apologises for reporting death threat

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Colombo, 19.10.12: In a shocking turn of events, Sri Lankan newspaper The Sunday Leader has formally apologised to defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa for reporting that the minister had threatened the then editor with death.

"It is unbelievable that The Sunday Leader has apologised in front of the Sri Lanka Press Council to defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa for reporting that the minister had threatened former editor, Frederica Jansz with death - even though she recorded his call and the minister admitted to making it," said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 executive director.

"Sri Lanka is due to go before the UN Human Rights Council in two weeks time for its Universal Periodic Review, and member states must urgently raise the terrible increase in impunity which is being reinforced by the highest levels of government," she added.

The Sunday Leader - once one of Sri Lanka's few remaining independent voices - was bought out by an ally of the president in September 2012. The new owner, Asanga Seneviratne, almost immediately sacked the newspaper's editor, Frederica Jansz, after she refused to prevent her reporters from criticising the government.

ARTICLE 19 warned the UN in April that affiliates of the president appeared to be buying up the private media in order to control their editorial lines, resulting in a severely reduced debate in a country that has only just emerged from conflict.

In the shadow report for the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka - due in October 2012, ARTICLE 19 highlighted that media diversity and press freedom are under threat in Sri Lanka where affiliates of the president appear to be buying newspapers that criticise the government, in order to censor them.

Jansz was threatened with death in July 2012. She was conducting an interview over the phone with Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa when he told her: "You pig that eats shit! You shit shit dirty fucking journalist! [ . . . ] People will kill you! People hate you! They will kill you!"

The Sunday Leader and its journalists have until now faced regular attack. The newspaper's editor, Lasantha Wickramatunge, was assassinated on his way to work on 8 January 2009. Nobody has ever been prosecuted for the crime.

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