SL President pooh-poohs Gothabaya death threat

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 18 April 2007, 11:05 GMT]
Before leaving for Italy Wednesday, Sri Lanka’s President Mahinda Rajapaksa telephoned Ms. Champika Liyanarachchi, editor of the Daily Mirror, in a bid to defuse the controversy that has erupted over the death threats she received Tuesday from Defence Secretary Gotathabaya Rajapaksa. The President had suggested to Ms. Liyanarachchi that she had overreacted to Mr. Gotabhaya’s “expressions of concern for her safety,” Presidential Secretariat sources said.

On Tuesday Gothabaya had threatened Ms. Liyanarachchi, saying the paper’s coverage of actions of the Karuna Group had angered the Army-backed paramilitaries.

According to the Free Media Movement (FMM), the Defence Secretary had telephoned the editor to say she should not be surprised if the Karuna Group turned its violence against her and if so, she shouldn’t expect government protection.

Sources close to the Daily Mirror said Tuesday that Mr. Gothabaya had been explicit.

Speaking in English, the incensed Defence Secretary vowed to Ms. Liyanarachchi: “I’ll exterminate you!”

He had also attacked another journalist with the Daily Mirror, Uditha Jayasinha, describing her as “a prostitute whose mother has been sleeping with the Tigers.”

On Wednesday morning President Rajapakse telephoned Ms. Liyanarachchi, saying the incident had been brought his notice by ‘a journalist.’

The President said that Mr. Gothabaya had only wanted to “express his concern for [Ms. Liyanarachchi’s] safety” after her paper published an article on violence by the Karuna Group and suggested the government was complicit.

Ironically, Ms. Liyanarachchi was seen by many as having good links with President Rajapakse’s administration and political camp.

Amid widespread expectation that Mr. Mahinda’s archrival, Ranil Wickremesinghe would win the 2005 President elections, she was the first commentator to emphatically argue the opposite, a media analyst said.

And in an interview to the BBC Sinhala service, Laksham Hulugalle, Director General of the Media Centre for National Security (MCNS), said of Ms Liyanarachchi: “we work closely work with her and I’m sure the Defence Secretary would never have said those things.”

“He’s not there to threaten journalists but to protect the country from threats,” Mr. Hulugalle said of Mr. Gothabaya.

However the FMM noted that government leaders had criticized Daily Mirror on previous occasions as well over is coverage of the conflict.

“It is an open secret that government leaders and close allies are pressurizing independent media to toe its line on war and peace. We see … a calculated process of coercion by the Government that forces media to abandon its role watch-dog of democracy, and instead adopt the supine role of a lap dog to those in power.”



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