Colombo, Sri Lanka: US lawmakers have asked Sri Lanka's government to protect a local defence journalist, saying he faces danger after reporting on alleged corruption in a military warplane purchase, according to a letter seen yesterday.
Sri Lanka's government had been providing high-profile defence reporter Iqbal Athas with police protection for about nine years, but withdrew it last month.
The protection was withdrawn after Athas wrote in two Sri Lankan newspapers about alleged irregularities in the purchase of fighter jets from Ukraine, according to a letter dated September 4 and purportedly written by Joseph Biden Junior, chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.
"I respectfully urge that security detail and police guard provided for Athas be fully and immediately restored," read the letter, addressed to Sri Lanka's President Mahinda Rajapakse.
The Associated Press in Sri Lanka obtained a copy of the letter from Athas's family yesterday.
Terry White, a US Embassy official in the capital, Colombo, said he had not seen the letter and could not immediately confirm its veracity.
Athas has been threatened in the past over his investigative work and Sri Lanka's government provided him with police protection after a 1998 assassination attempt.
A police guard was placed in front of his home and security personnel accompanied him when he travelled.
Paris-based media rights watchdog group Reporters Without Borders has also voiced concern about Athas's safety, writing to ask European and US embassies help protect him.
"President Mahinda Rajapakse and his brother, Gotabhaya Rajapakse, will be held personally responsible by the journalist community for anything that happens to Iqbal Athas and his colleagues," Reporters Without Borders said in its letter, sent late last month.
The government said Athas's security had not been withdrawn out of any hostility toward the reporter.