For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
Sunila Abeysekera who died on 9 September after a long battle with cancer, was an activist and campaigner who dedicated her entire life to the struggle for social justice and human rights. Her death at the age of sixty-one is deeply mourned by friends, colleagues and associates in Sri Lanka and elsewhere, who shared her struggles and learnt much from her through several eventful years.
The Free Media Movement (FMM), one of the Sri Lankan affiliates of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), has in a statement, recalled Sunila as a committed fighter who stood unswervingly by the central ethos of equality of all, irrespective of class, caste, ethnicity or gender.
“While engaging in social activism at the grass roots”, said the FMM, “Sunila also contributed to the world as a scholar. She communicated in the written as well as spoken word, both in English and Sinhala”.
Sunila was an active FMM member since the early days of the movement in the mid-1990s. She intervened at vital junctures in Sri Lanka’s war-torn history, to protect the right to free speech, and human rights in general. She was adept at working the constitutional machinery, as with a number of fundamental rights cases filed in Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court, challenging press censorship and other violations of free speech.
INFORM, the civil society organisation that Sunila founded along with the Human Rights Documentation Centre, were of invaluable help to the FMM through its years of struggle for media freedom.
Sunila also was one of the founders of the Women and Media Collective and is remembered by several women in the media as the energy and inspiration behind the earliest initiatives to address issues of women’s representation and portrayal in the media in Sri Lanka. As an activist who could use a wide range of platforms, she has contributed to Sinhala theatre and film on these themes.
The IFJ joins partners and affiliates in Sri Lanka and elsewhere in paying homage to Sunila Abeysekera and a life lived by the highest standards of commitment to human rights and social justice.