The murder of Lasantha Wickremetunge, known for his exposure of high level corruption and wrongdoings, is a shocking reminder of the dangers facing Sri Lanka’s courageous journalists, for whom death is all too often the ultimate form of censorship.
Wickremetunge, editor of The Sunday Leader, was shot near Colombo by unknown gunmen riding a motorcycle on the morning of 8 January as he was driving his car to his office. He died of his wounds a few hours later.
Commenting on Wickremetunge’s murder, IPI Director David Dadge, who met The Sunday Leader’s editor in Colombo on a number of occasions, said, “I am sickened by this callous attack on a journalist, who was for so many years a beacon for independent journalism in Sri Lanka. The killing of such a respected editor represents a great loss for Sri Lankan society. His work was crucial to the fight for press freedom and democracy in the country.”
Wickremetunge was one of the most persistent and authoritative critics of both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). In a 4 January Sunday Leader editorial criticising President Mahinda Rajapakse for allegedly using the war against the LTTE as a tool for achieving electoral success, he boldly stated that the “Rajapakses, swollen as they are with the pride of bloodthirsty euphoria, are unable to think beyond the destruction of the LTTE and its leadership.”
The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network for a free media, joins the international outcry condemning Wickremetunge’s killing and calls on the authorities to do everything in their power to bring the perpetrators of this crime to justice and to end the impunity reigning in Sri Lanka.
IPI is also concerned about reports that, after the killing of the editor, sections of BBC Sandeshaya and Tamilosai reports, including comments from colleagues of the editor and representatives of the opposition, as well as quotes from international organisations, were blanked out by the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC).