Unidentified gunmen attack private TV station in Sri Lanka (Lead)

January 6th, 2009 - 4:03 pm ICT by IANS  

Colombo, Jan 6 (IANS) A group of unidentified gunmen Tuesday torched a leading Sri Lankan private television and radio station on the outskirts of the national capital, drawing strong condemnation from the US, rights groups and media organisations. According to officials, the gunmen came in a van without number plates and attacked the studios and the main control room of the Maharaja Television/Broadcasting network (MTV/MBC) at Depanama, Pannipitiya, near Colombo.

“An armed group of 15 to 20 people stormed our main studio complex at Depanama between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. today, attacked the employees on duty, threw petrol bombs and torched the main control room before fleeing the area,” an official attached to the television network said.

“Although there were no casualties, the attack caused large-scale damage running into millions of rupees,” the official said.

The television channel repeatedly showed visuals of partly burnt studios and equipment in the attack.

The MTV/MBC is a pioneer private radio and television network that carries news and programmes in three languages - Sinhala, Tamil and English.

Several media rights groups, activists and senior media personnel have condemned the latest attack on the media in Sri Lanka.

“We condemn the attack on the MTV offices in the strongest possible terms and urge the authorities to speedily carry out independent investigation to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book,” Sanath Balasuriya, president of Sri Lanka’s Working Journalists Association, said.

Condemning the attack on the popular private TV station, the government information department said President Mahinda Rajapaksa had “ordered a full investigation into the incident and called on the inspector general of police to apprehend the culprits and bring them to justice”.

The US said it “strongly condemns the brazen attack” and called on the authorities “to investigate thoroughly this serious crime” and bring the perpetrators swiftly to justice.

“The US deplores this latest in a series of criminal attacks on the independent media in Sri Lanka. A free press that is not subject to intimidation or violence is an essential component of any democracy,” the US embassy here said in a statement.

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