U.S. 'appalled' by Sri Lanka attacks on journalists

Upali Tennakoon, editor of Sri Lankan newspaper Rivira, lies on a hospital trolley in Colombo January 23, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States said it was “appalled” by violence against journalists in Sri Lanka, after an editor was stabbed on Friday, the third attack on the country’s media this month.

“The United States is appalled by continuing physical attacks and threats against media personnel in Sri Lanka,” State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement. “These serious reports are disturbing indicators of the deteriorating atmosphere for media independence in Sri Lanka.”

Editor Upali Thennakoon, editor of the Sinhalese language weekly newspaper Rivira, was stabbed in the face and beaten by a gang of assailants on motorcycles as he drove to work. His wife was injured as she sought to protect him.

The attack was similar to the murder two weeks ago of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, who was also intercepted on his way to work by men on motorcycles.

His murder came days after gunmen destroyed the main studio of MBC, Sri Lanka’s largest private broadcaster.

Sri Lanka has a long history of violence against journalists and the offenders are rarely prosecuted. But President Mahinda Rajapaksa has vowed since Wickramatunga’s killing to change that and suspects have been arrested in the MBC case.

“We call on the government of Sri Lanka to protect all of its citizens by enforcing law and order, preventing intimidation of the media, and by conducting swift, full and credible investigations into attacks on journalists and other civilians,” the State Department said.