Friday, January 9, 2009

Sri Lanka: Killing of Sunday Leader editor is outrageous

The killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, 52, by unidentified assailants at Attidiya in Colombo on 8 January 2009 is outrageous.

Media freedom group Reporters Without Borders has held the government responsible: “President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press.” During an interview with a Reporters Without Borders representative in Colombo in October 2007, President Rajapaksa called Mr Wickrematunga a “terrorist journalist”. In November 2007, the printing press of the Sunday Leader media group (Leader Publications), which is located in a high security area near Colombo, was destroyed in an arson attack by a group of gunmen. Wickrematunga alleged that the attack was “a commando operation supported by the government.” The police failed to investigate the attack properly.

Mr Wickramatunga had been a virulent critic of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government and the war with the Tamil Tiger rebels. True to the tag line of Sunday Leader - “Unbowed And Unafraid”, he was very outspoken and a man of insurmountable courage. In his last editorial he accused President Rajapaksa of pursuing the war to stay in power.

"Winning the war? Then there must be elections around the corner. It is no secret that the war has become Mahinda Rajapaksa's recipe for electoral success," he wrote.

The killing of Lasantha Wickrematunga once again exposes the critical situation in which journalists work and live in Sri Lanka.

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