Lasantha Wickrematunge, a former editor of Sri Lankan daily newspaper The Sunday Leader who was shot dead in January 2009, has been posthumously declared an IPI World Press Freedom Hero. Wickrematunge, one of the most persistent critics of both the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tiger (LTTE) militants, was shot by unknown assailants near the Sri Lankan capital Colombo on 8 January 2009 and died a few hours later.

Less than a week before he was killed, in an editorial criticising President Mahinda Rajapakse for allegedly using the war against the LTTE as a tool for achieving electoral success, he 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.”

Wickrematunge had grimly predicted his own death in an <media 1309>editorial</media> published three days after his murder. He wrote: “In the wake of my death I know you [Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa] will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too.”

It was a chillingly accurate prediction: More than a year later, there has been no progress in solving the killing.

On 8 January 2010, Lasantha’s brother and Chairman of Leader Publications Ltd. (which includes The Sunday Leader), Lal Wickrematunge, told IPI: “It is one year and no break-through has been made …The case in court has been called 24 times and postponed; and police have not made any headway into solving the crime.”

In a Q&A conducted by IPI on the day his brother, Lasantha, was named IPI’s 53rd World Press Freedom Hero, Lal Wickrematunge said: “Lasantha knew he was in danger through past attacks on him. But he continued in his journey unbowed and unafraid. He felt total commitment to his work … The Sunday Leader has continued in the same editorial commitment as before and is facing threats and even death threats through the mail.”

The nomination of Lasantha Wickrematunge was unanimously approved by the five-member IPI World Press Freedom Hero jury, which includes:

– Raymond Louw, Editor & Publisher, Southern Africa Report; IPI Fellow (Chair of the Jury)

– N. Ravi, Editor, The Hindu, India; IPI Board Member

– Galina Sidorova, Editor-in-Chief, Sovershenno Secretno, Russia; IPI Board Member

– Ms. Ferai Tinc, Columnist, Hürriyet Daily, Turkey; IPI Board Member

– Mr. H.D.S. Greenway, Columnist; former Editorial Page Editor, The Boston Globe, Boston, MA; IPI Fellow

Wickrematunge will be one of 60 World Press Freedom Heroes honoured in a ceremony to commemorate IPI’s 60th year of defending press freedom worldwide, at the IPI World Congress in Vienna and Bratislava, from 11-14 September 2010

In 2000, on the occasion of IPI’s 50th anniversary, IPI honoured 50 World Press Freedom Heroes at its World Congress in Boston. Two additional press freedom heroes – Hrant Dink and Anna Politkovskaya – were selected by the IPI Executive Board and honoured posthumously in 2006 and 2007 respectively. Seven must still be chosen to make up the full 60 for this year’s ceremony.

“The murder of Wickrematunge was a shocking reminder of the dangers facing Sri Lanka’s courageous journalists, for whom death is all too often the ultimate form of censorship,” said IPI Director David Dadge. “By naming him an IPI World Press Freedom Hero, IPI honours his memory and his sacrifice, and sends the strongest message possible to the Sri Lankan government that the international community will not forget his murder and that the perpetrators must be found and punished.”

According to IPI Death Watch figures – highlighted in the recent release of the organisation’s World Press Freedom Review 2009 – 17 journalists were killed in Sri Lanka because of their work over the last decade. Two were killed in 2009.

IPI’s World Press Freedom Heroes are individuals who have made a significant contribution to the defense and promotion of press freedom, especially – but not only – if this involved acts of resistance or bravery under harsh conditions.

IPI is announcing one new Press Freedom Hero every month in the run-up to the World Congress in September.

To find out more about the nomination and selection process for IPI’s World Press Freedom Heroes, please click here.

For more information about the IPI World Congress 2010, please visit the Congress website at: