New York, January 8, 2009--With
today's murder of the editor-in-chief of the The Sunday
Leader newspaper, the Committee to Protect Journalists called on concerned
ambassadors in Colombo to weigh in forcefully and immediately with President
Mahinda Rajapaksa to put an end to the
attacks raining down on Sri
Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga was a prominent senior Sri
Lankan journalist known for his critical reporting on the government. A source in
Sri Lanka who insisted on
anonymity out of fear for his safety
told CPJ that Wickramatunga was shot repeatedly with an automatic pistol
equipped with a silencer while driving to work in the Colombo suburb of Attidiya. His assailants
bashed in the window of the car before shooting him in the chest and head, according
to colleagues and local and international news reports. He was pronounced dead
shortly after 2 p.m. in Colombo,
after three hours of emergency surgery.
This morning's killing follows the January 6 early morning assault by about 15 masked
gunmen on Sirasa TV studios outside Colombo. Earlier, some state media had called
the station "unpatriotic" for its coverage of the war with the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). CPJ called for an impartial
parliamentary inquiry into the attack, saying the government has been a prime suspect in attacks
on journalists in the past. Rajapaksa has condemned today's killing as well as
the attack on Sirasa.
"The sheer brutality of the attacks in recent days is a
clear indicator of how the war on the Sri Lankan media has moved far beyond the
use of threats, intimidation, legal harassment, and sporadic violence to curb
the media," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program
assassination of Lasantha Wickramatunga signals that the
government is unable or unwilling to protect the country's journalists who dare
to report critically. The international community in Colombo must act quickly to bring pressure on
President Rajapaksa to reverse this murderous trend."
The Sunday Leader is
well known for being critical of Rajapaksa's government. In a recent
editorial, the paper accused the president of stepping up the war with the
secessionist LTTE in order to stay in power.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The name of Sirasa TV has been corrected.