News
Armed gang burns down Leader newspapers press
by Norman Palihawadana

An armed gang set fire to the printing press of the pro-Opposition Leader Publications, in Ratmalana, in the wee hours of yesterday.

SSP Mount Lavinia Edison Gunatilleke said that about a dozen masked men had entered the press, situated at No 24, Katukurunduwatta Road, Ratmalana, close to the Ratmalana SLAF base and set it ablaze after forcing the management and workers, including the security staff, to hand over their mobile phones and kneel.

Headquarters Inspector of the Mount Lavinia Police, Mahesh Perera said that the attackers had assaulted two workers. According to him, two of the attackers had been armed, one with a T 56 assault rifle and the other a pistol. They had arrived in two vehicles, the security staff had told investigators.

The company publishes The Sunday Leader, the mid weekly Morning Leader and Irudina. The press had been badly damaged.

Managing Director of the Leader Publications Lal Wickrematunga and Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga pointed out that the latest attack, too, took place in a high security zone close to the Ratmalana Air Base.

According to Gunatilleke, the attackers stormed the printing press at 2.15 am. "They are believed to have reached their target from two directions," he said, assuring that every effort would be made to identify the gang.

Senior DIG Jayantha Wickremeratne said that an inquiry was underway.

Some workers had told police investigators that one of the getaway vehicles belonged to a Provincial Council.

An unidentified gang attacked the same press two years ago but the case remains unresolved. A printing press which printed the ‘Lanka’ too was attacked about a year ago.

The Free Media Movement, while condemning the attack on the Leader Publications, said that today’s issue of Morning Leader print-run was on when the armed gang entered the premises.

The FMM, in a brief statement issued yesterday, referred to the dispute between Ms Sonali Samarasinghe, editor of The Morning Leader and the Asian Tribune website at the centre of a simmering controversy over its alleged relationship with the breakaway LTTE faction now headed by Pillayan.

"Recently, the Morning Leader editor had been very critical of Asia Tribune website, which according to the editor, was working hand in glove with the breakaway LTTE militant group now headed by Pillayan. She filed a civil defamation case against the website some weeks ago and in retaliation the website unleashed a series of articles attacking her," the FMM said.

The Sunday leader printing press was set on fire on an earlier occasion on October 17, 2005 in the run up to the last presidential election. 

The FMM said that Sunday Leader and its editor Lasantha Wickramatunga as well as Morning Leader Editor Sonali Samarasinghe have been harassed and threatened continuously during the last two years. All Leader publications are very critical of the government and are exponents of Opposition political views."

The FMM blamed the government for not being able to protect the printing house. "The culture of impunity that prevails in this country has prevented any meaningful inquiry into all acts of violence against the media and journalists that has taken place under this government. The government has failed miserably to uphold and maintain the rule of law when the people’s democratic and human rights are violated. it said."

"Recently, the Morning Leader editor had been very critical of the Asia Tribune website, which according to the editor, was working hand in glove with the breakaway LTTE militant group now headed by Pillayan. She filed a civil defamation case against the website some weeks ago and in retaliation the website unleashed a series of articles attacking her," the FMM said.

 

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