The editor of the New York Times, Michael Slackman condemned the intimidation of journalists by Sri Lankan lawmakers following a NYT report last month into Chinese control over of the Hambantota port.
In a statement published on Tuesday, Mr Slackman said, "a group of Sri Lankan parliamentarians allied with the former president, Mahinda Rajapaksa, held a news conference to publicly criticize two journalists who contributed logistical assistance to a rigorously reported and accurate New York Times investigation into Hambantota port, published on June 26."
The publishing of the NYT report led to an online social media campaign by unidentified users attempting to discredit the paper and journalists involved in the report. On Monday, Sri Lankan lawmakers held a televised press conference where they identified and criticised two local journalists, Dharisha Bastians and Arthur Wamanan as working against the former president Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Condemning the intimidation, which has been endorsed openly by the former president's son, Namal Rajapaksa, the NYT editor said,
“It is unacceptable for journalists to be intimidated in this way. This action appears intended to silence critics and curb press freedoms, and ultimately deprive Sri Lankans of information in the public interest.”
"The Times expects the Sri Lankan authorities to ensure the safety of journalists working for our — or any — news organization."
"If Mr Rajapaksa takes issue with Times reporting, we have encouraged him to contact senior editors at The New York Times rather than intimidating Sri Lankan journalists.
Namal Rajapaksa took to Twitter to reject the allegations of intimidation.
"At no time did @PresRajapaksa or myself intimidate the journalists who worked on this article. @meslackman: Just like the press has a right to criticize politicians, don't we also have the right to "publicily criticize" reporting we believe to be faulty?" he tweeted.
The original NYT report has been refuted by the former president in an open letter to the paper on July 1.
China's embassy in Colombo also responded to the report stating it was "inconsistent".