It is with shock and dismay that we note the dastardly attack on the Leader Publications printing press at Ratmalana yesterday. An unidentified group stormed the place, held the production staff incommunicado at gun point and set the machinery on fire. That cowardly act of terrorism must be condemned unreservedly by one and all.
On a number of occasions in the past, Editor-in-chief of the Leader Publications Lasantha Wickremetunge came under attack. In one incident, he and his wife were roughed up by thugs. Later a grenade was lobbed at his residence. The Sunday Leader was also sealed under President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s regime. Its printing press was set on fire in 2005 in the run-up to the last Presidential Election. Lasantha and the Morning Leader Editor Sonali Samarasinghe have complained of threats to their lives during the past few years.
The fact that the ill-fated press is located within a high security zone has raised many an eyebrow. How on earth could the attackers gain access to that area, accomplish their dirty mission and vanish into thin air? What`s the use of having such high security zones where goons can strike at will?
One may not necessarily agree with Lasantha`s or Sonali`s brand of journalism but no one has a right to suppress their freedom of expression either through physical violence or intimidation. Given the large number of persons those two newspapers have been critical of, it may not be possible to point an accusing finger at any particular individual or group over the attack. This, we reckon, is the biggest danger. The culture of impunity, an inevitable outcome of decades of terrorism and attendant war, has taken its toll on democratic institutions, rendering some of them hollow to the core. The country has come to such a pass that anyone can do anything and get away with it!
The press is one of the main pillars carrying democracy and any attempt to frighten a newspaper into submission must be defeated with might and main. The identities of the armed and masked eunuchs responsible for that cowardly attack are not yet known. But, there is little that the government which has had to bear the brunt of the scathing attacks that The Sunday Leader and The Morning Leader are unleashing, can do to avoid being a suspect. The Free Media Movement (FMM) has, in its statement condemning the incident, made mention of the Karuna Group now led by Pillayan in regard to a dispute between Sonali and a web publication.
The government has ordered a probe into the attack and that is a step in the right direction. But, it must go the whole hog and ensure that the investigations will not be hushed up. It is only by bringing the perpetrators of that shameful act of terrorism to book that the government can clear its name. Perhaps, there may be more to the incident than meets the eye. And it is up to the government to get to the bottom of it without keeping the public guessing. Most of all, the safety of Lasantha, Sonali and other journalists working with the Leader Publications must be ensured.
The pathetic failure of the police to conclude the previous investigations into attacks on the press and to bring the perpetrators to justice appears to have emboldened others of their ilk to target the media. Hence the need for a speedy probe into the incident at issue and deterrent action!
The Island and The Leader may differ in many ways but we believe that he who touches The Leader touches The Island and we urge each and every member of the Fourth Estate and the members of the public to stand shoulder to shoulder with Lasantha and his staff at this hour of their crisis and join their campaign to seek justice.
And to those armed and hooded cowards who torched the Leader press we say: `You can destroy all the printing presses but you cannot stop newspapers!`