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COLOMBO: Sri Lanka, embroiled in one of the bloodiest phases of war in the north of the country, has now entered a new stage in violence. This time involving the country’s journalists.

Exactly a week after the abduction and torture of a senior journalist of the Nation newspaper, Keith Noyhar, another newsman was hacked to death. P. Devakumar, a northern Jaffna-based correspondent with the Sirasa television group, was stabbed to death in his hometown on the evening of May 28,2008, along with another person. Sources in the north said the 36-year-old journalist was returning home on his motorcycle with a friend when an unidentified group began stabbing him. According to media rights organisations, he is the ninth journalist killed since 2006. The death coincided with the alleged ‘threatening’ of two Colombo-based journalists working for the government-controlled Lake House group of publication by Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapake, the brother of President Mahinda Rajapakse.

According to President Sanath Balasuriya and General Secretary Poddala Jayantha of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association, the defence secretary had warned them to refrain from criticising the government through media activism.

The warning came after the journalists’ association took part in a massive protest rally against the assault on the Nation journalist and later raised several issues in a meeting with the secretary concerning the apprehending of the culprits involved in the abduction of Keith Noyhar. However, during the meeting, the secretary said if journalists continued criticising the military, neither he nor the regime would be in a position to prevent actions taken against them by groups or persons who revere the army commander. The alleged threat invoked a deep concern in an open letter sent to the defence secretary by five media organisations, including the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association.

The letter states that the assertion by the defence secretary that journalists who work for the State media could not criticise those in the government and the armed forces was ‘particularly revealing’. “It is regrettable that you consider the primary function of State media to be one that is unquestioningly supportive to the regime and whatever it does, says and thinks,” the letter adds.

Meanwhile, slamming the government for its treatment of local journalists, Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has told the media that the United National Party (UNP) would move a special motion in parliament on safeguarding media freedom.