Friday, August 24, 2007

Top Lankan defence analyst silenced amid fears for life

COLOMBO (AFP) - A top Sri Lankan defence columnist stopped writing fearing for his life after he exposed alleged corruption in the purchase of second-hand supersonic jets, the Sunday Times weekly said.

The "Situation Report" by Iqbal Athas was not being published Sunday after the government withdrew police bodyguards who had been assigned to protect him for over nine years, the paper said.

"The Sunday Times regrets the Situation Report does not appear today in the light of serious constraints placed on the author, Consultant Editor and Defence Correspondent," the paper said.

"He fears for his life and that of his family," it said, adding that Athas was being followed.

In the space reserved for Athas' weekly column was a parliamentary investigation into state enterprises under the headline: "The stink of the state sector."

The indirect censorship of Athas comes as international media activists on Friday warned of worsening conditions in one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists.

The local Free Media Movement (FMM) said it was convinced there was a "very real basis" for Athas to fear for his life because of repeated attacks and harassment of journalists and media workers in Sri Lanka in recent months.

"We call on the President, as Minister of Defence, to take all steps necessary to provide Mr. Athas with adequate security immediately," the FMM said in a statement.

"Failure to do so will only provide yet another indication of the lack of concern on the part of the government for the safety and security of media personnel in Sri Lanka."

Rights groups have said the situation for journalists has worsened as Sri Lanka presses for a military victory over the rebels in a 35-year-old conflict that has claimed more than 60,000 lives.

Over 5,200 people have been killed since December 2005, according to official figures, while human rights groups have alleged that over 1,000 people have "disappeared" in the past year.

Letter to Nanda Mallawaratchchi
Deadly Climate for Reporters and Aid

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