Moving an adjournment motion in Parliament yesterday, UNP Colombo District member Ravi Karunanayake said the Sunday Leader newspaper printing press had been set on fire by some hooligans but the government which professed the freedom of press has not been able to catch the culprits though five days had elapsed since the incident.
`The freedom of the press is being suppressed by the government and newspapers and journalists are under threat. The government media was only scorning at the Opposition but there was no freedom for journalists or media. It was strange how the press, which was located between the airport and a security force camp, in a high security zone, was entered by the thugs who set it on fire without the police or the forces being able to prevent it. The country was losing its reputation at home and abroad and the government should say why the Sunday Leader had been the victim of such attacks in the past as well as threats against the newspaper and its journalists,` Karunanayake said.
UNP Kurunegala District member Dayasiri Jayasekara seconded the motion.
Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Minister of Mass Media, said the very existence of newspapers like Sunday Leader or Rividina, that openly criticised the government and its ministers was proof that there was media freedom in the country. The Sunday Leader press that was set on fire was not located in a High Security Zone as stated by Ravi Karunanayake. He should not give false information to the House as the police were going ahead with investigations to find out who was responsible for the act. The checkpoints on either side of the press had taken the numbers of all the vehicles that passed the area during the time the incident had occurred and had obtained statements of two eye witnesses but the investigations are not over.
Minister of Media and Information Anura Priyadarashana Yapa said President Mahinda Rajapaksa had ordered an immediate inquiry as soon as the incident became known and police are making investigations. The government did not suppress or harass the media but it was the Opposition Leader that had telephoned to threaten the parliament correspondent of a private newspaper recently.
Of the two witnesses questioned by the police, one had named a person who had been in prison for the last four months as one of the persons responsible for setting fire while the other witness, who was a driver of a vehicle of the same newspaper had said he was in his vehicle parked at the time but he did not see who committed the crime. It was totally incorrect to say the government was doing nothing about it as a full scale investigation is being conducted by the police and all efforts are being made to nab those responsible for the act, Yapa said.