(The Sunday Leader)
(The Sunday Leader)

Death threats sent to paper of slain editor in Sri Lanka

New York, October 28, 2009—The Committee to Protect Journalists is greatly concerned by ongoing threats to Sri Lanka’s journalists and media organizations. Anonymous letters with death threats, at left, recently sent to Sunday Leader Editor-in-Chief Frederica Jansz and News Editor Munza Mushtaq echo those that ended in the death of the paper’s founder, Lasantha Wickramatunga, in January. 

“Our concern is that these most recent threats, like so many others, and the deaths of 11 journalists since President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power in 2006, will remain unexplained and those behind them will remain unprosecuted,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The air of impunity surrounding violence against the media is having a chilling effect on journalists.”

The written threats are “almost identical to what Lasantha got three weeks before he was murdered,” Jansz told CPJ in an e-mail message. No one has been charged or prosecuted in Wickramatunga’s death. The editor was killed in his car on his way to work on a busy street in a suburb of Colombo. According to his brother Lal Wickramatunga, chairman of the paper’s parent company, Leader Publications, the editor had been receiving anonymous death threats for months.

According to Jansz, the two letters she and Mushtaq received on October 22 are identical—written in red ink, postmarked October 21. Both letters threatened: “If you write anymore, we will kill you and slice you into pieces,” Jansz said. The Sunday Leader has a long history of being critical of the government, but Jansz said she thinks the latest threat stems from a controversy surrounding an interview she gave to Al-Jazeera about footage aired by Britain’s Channel 4 News that apparently showed a man in a Sri Lankan military uniform executing Tamil prisoners, some unclothed and with their hands tied behind their backs. The government denied the video’s validity, and claimed Jansz’s comments supported claims of the video’s accuracy.