Critical Sri Lankan newspaper editor held at knifepoint

New York, August 26, 2013–Five unidentified men entered the Colombo home of a Sunday Leader associate editor and writer early Saturday morning, held her at knifepoint, and searched her home, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls on Sri Lankan authorities to conduct a thorough and efficient investigation into the attack on Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema.

Abeywickrema said that the assailants slapped her several times, stole jewelry, and spent a few hours going through her files and documents, the Free Media Movement, a local press freedom organization, told AFP. She said the men told her they had been hired by “someone who had an axe to grind with her,” news reports said. Abeywickrema’s children were also present during the attack.

The journalist’s husband, Romesh, who was returning home from work at the Sunday Leader, notified the police, reports said. Romesh is also an editor at the paper. Police arrived at the journalists’ home, shot dead one of the assailants, and took the others into custody.

Police called the attack an attempted robbery, reports said, but the Free Media Movement has said the incident was linked to the editor’s work. Abeywickrema has often been critical of the government in her political commentaries for the Sunday Leader. She also presides over the Sri Lanka Journalists Trade Union, a newly formed press freedom group.

“Given the press freedom environment in Sri Lanka, the possibility that this was a targeted attack and not a robbery must be fully considered,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Authorities must demonstrate their concern by launching a thorough and vigorous investigation and bringing the perpetrators to justice.”

Authorities said that two of assailants were former soldiers. The army has denied any responsibility in the attack.

The attack is not the first violent incident involving the staff of the Sunday Leader. In 2009, Lasantha Wickramatunga, the paper’s editor who was known for his critical coverage of the government, was shot dead near his office.

The attack against Abeywickrema took place one day before U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay arrived in the country.

  • For more data and analysis, visit CPJ’s Sri Lanka page.