COLOMBO -- Violence, threats, intimidation and anti-media remarks by senior politicians are threatening the safety of journalists working in war-torn Sri Lanka, a media rights group said Wednesday.
"The safety of journalists in Sri Lanka is in serious jeopardy as several serious attacks and anti-media statements demonstrate a lack of respect for the value of media freedom," the International Federation of Journalists said.
The Brussels-based group said in a statement that the authorities -- locked in a bitter war with Tamil Tiger rebels -- must initiate immediate and impartial investigations into attacks against journalists and ensure the culprits are brought to justice.
Sri Lanka's powerful defense secretary Gotabhaya Rajapakse last weekend called for censorship and criminal defamation laws to prevent journalists from reporting on "negative military news" in the war on the rebels.
Rajapakse, who is also President Mahinda Rajapakse's brother, in an interview with a weekend newspaper also called for the prosecution of two leading private media firms for "critical reportage."
He said he wanted the president to bring laws to mete out harsh punishment to offending reporters.
"The statement is an alarming reflection of the government's growing and overt disregard for media freedom and the right of journalists to conduct their work freely," the IFJ said.
The rights group said it was also concerned with a recent knife attack on Lal Hemantha Mawalage, a news reporter working for state television, in the suburbs of Colombo.
Another journalist, Suhaib Kasim, attached to a state-run Tamil-language daily Thinakaran, was stabbed by unidentified assailants at his Colombo home on Monday.
The motive of the attack is not known.
International media rights activists have described Sri Lanka as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to work.
In June, IFJ said that 11 media workers had been killed in Sri Lanka since August 2005.
Ten of them were slain in government-controlled areas, the federation said, and no one has been formally charged in their deaths.
Although there is no formal censorship imposed, Sri Lankan authorities prevent journalists from traveling to areas held by rebels, who are waging a separatist conflict that has killed more than 60,000 people since 1972.
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