Outspoken Journalist Killed in Sri Lanka

January 9, 2009

Yesterday morning, a brave Sri Lankan journalist paid the ultimate price for freedom of expression.  Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, was shot by unidentified gunmen  while on his way to work.  He died a few hours later of his injuries.  The Sunday Leader newspaper is known in Sri Lanka for its articles exposing political corruption in privatization deals and for drawing attention to human rights abuses in connection with the recent upsurge in fighting between the government and the opposition Tamil Tigers.

This isn’t the first time that the Sunday Leader and its staff have come under attack.  In 2006, Mr. Wickramatunga was threatened with arrest over an article critical of the president.  In 2007, the printing presses of the Leader group of publications were attacked by 10 armed men who threatened employees and set fire to some of the equipment.

Mr. Wickramatunga’s murder occurred just two days after the privately owned MVC/MTV television studios were ransacked by a gang of thugs.  MVC/MTV had also been critical of the government.

At least 14 journalists or other media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka over the past three years.  More than 20 journalists have left the country due to death threats.  Others have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and disappeared while in custody of the security forces.

The Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has publicly condemned the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga and directed the Police to investigate his killing.  However, the Police have yet to find the killers of any of the other murdered journalists.  What hope is there that they’ll be any more effective in this case?  Will we see more assassinations like this in the days to come?

Please take a few minutes out of your day to email President Rajapaksa ([email protected] or [email protected]) and Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya ([email protected] ). Tell them an independent investigation into Mr. Wickramatunga’s murder and the other attacks on journalists is urgently needed now.  His killers must be found and tried.  Otherwise, I may have more stories like this one to report in future.

* This report comes from Amnesty’s country specialist on Sri Lanka, Jim McDonald.