For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
By Bharatha Mallawarachi (CP)
COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lankan journalists Tuesday demanded justice for a renowned newspaper editor gunned down by attackers on motorcycles, complaining no arrests have been made in the case a year after his killing.
Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper, was shot dead in his car by assailants on Jan. 8, 2009. The paper had been critical of the government’s conduct in the war against the now-defeated Tamil Tiger rebels and reported on alleged human rights violations and government corruption.
Rights group Amnesty International has said at least 14 Sri Lankan journalists and media workers have been killed since the beginning of 2006, but none of these cases has been solved. Many have fled the country because of death threats. Some have been assaulted and others arrested.
About 100 journalists gathered in the capital of Colombo and protested the failure to track down Wickrematunge’s killers. They also called for police to find the culprits involved in dozens of other attacks on members of the media.
Protesters held placards that read “One year lapsed since Lasantha’s killing: Where are the Killers?” and “Stop Media Suppression.”
Government comment was not immediately available Tuesday.
Described by President Mahinda Rajapaksa as a “terrorist journalist,” Wickrematunge predicted his own assassination. “When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me,” Wickrematunge wrote in an obituary published after his death.
Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders condemned “Wickrematunge’s unpunished murder” in a statement last week.
“The anger is being sustained by the government’s flagrant obstruction of the investigation,” the group said. “Lasantha Wickrematunge’s name and memory will not disappear and, in that sense, those who were behind his murder made a mistake.”
Media rights groups say Sri Lanka is among the most dangerous places for dissenting journalists.
The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has said at least 11 Sri Lankan reporters have been forced to flee the country in the past year.
A lawyer for Sri Lankan journalist Jeyaprakash Tissainayagam said Monday his client will be released on bail pending an appeal after he was sentenced to 20 years in jail for “supporting terrorism.”
Tissainayagam was arrested in 2008 after he wrote articles that accused the government of cutting off Tamil-majority areas from food and other essential items during its military offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels.