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Sri Lanka affirms defamation sentence for editor

December 5, 2000
Web posted at: 9:52 PM HKT (1352 GMT)

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (Reuters) -- Sri Lanka's Court of Appeal upheld on Tuesday the conviction of a newspaper editor for defaming the president, but the journalist was out of the country monitoring elections in the West Indies.

The court dismissed an appeal by Sinha Ratnatunga, editor of the independent Sunday Times newspaper, against a 1997 judgment by a lower court which gave him a two-year suspended prison sentence.

Ratnatunga had been charged with criminal defamation under Sri Lanka's 19th century penal code for suggestive remarks in a Sunday Times gossip column about President Chandrika Kumaratunga's private life.

Ratnatunga was not in the court to hear the ruling, and colleagues said he had been invited by the Commonwealth Secretariat to monitor presidential and parliamentary elections which begin next week in Trinidad and Tobago.

Ratnatunga's conviction three years ago sparked a storm of protest and media rights groups demanded the repeal of the criminal defamation law, saying it was archaic.

A man was arrested last month under the same law for abusing Kumaratunga during a radio talkshow.

Copyright 2000 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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