February 1, 2011 / 2:17 PM / 8 years ago

Sri Lanka holds suspect in media attack

COLOMBO (Reuters) - Sri Lankan police arrested on Tuesday a suspect in the torching of the offices of a web site critical of the government, an attack which drew condemnation from the U.S. government.

Monday’s arson at the office of U.K.-based web site www.lankaenews.com, which regularly criticizes the government and has links to a politician who fell out with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, is the latest in a series of assaults on media.

Rajapaksa ordered a swift investigation, and police on Tuesday said they had arrested a man on suspicion of involvement and were continuing their investigation.

“Regardless of who is responsible for this incident, such violence directed against a media institution silences voices, further threatens freedom of expression, and undermines democracy throughout the country,” the U.S. embassy said in a statement.

Hundreds of media workers and opposition politicians staged a peaceful protest against the attack in Colombo Tuesday.

At least 14 journalists have been killed and many more attacked or threatened in the Indian Ocean island nation since the start of the final phase of a 25-year civil war in 2006.

Sri Lanka has a long history of violence and intimidation against journalists, stretching back as far as 1971, when the first of three separate violent insurgencies broke out and ushered in an era of impunity.

Press freedom groups regularly criticize the government of involvement in, or tolerance of attacks against journalists and a failure to find the perpetrators.

However, the government has pointed to many cases where journalists have blamed the government or orchestrated attacks as ploys to get political asylum in Western nations or donor funding.

Editing by Bryson Hull and Robert Birsel

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