One year later in Sri Lanka, little has changed

By Bob Dietz/Asia Program Coordinator on January 7, 2010 5:28 PM ET

Lasantha Wickramatunga

Even by Sri Lanka’s standards, January 2009 was a brutal month for journalists.

On January 6, on a quiet road on the outskirts of Colombo, the country’s main independently owned TV station, Sirasa TV, was raided at 2:05 a.m. by 15 to 20 masked armed men working with military precision. At 2:35:31 they detonated an explosion, possibly a claymore mine, a military-style antipersonnel mine set off by an electrical charge through wires leading to the device.

And at around 6:40 a.m. on January 23, according to Upali Tennakoon, editor of the Sinhala-language, pro-government weekly Rivira, four men on two motorcycles forced his car to stop and smashed its window. One attacker used a metal bar with a single sharp point to hit Tennakoon in the face and in his hands when he put them up to defend himself, he said. He and his wife, Dhammika, were driving to his office at the time of the attack.

But by far the worst assault on a journalist came on January 8, two days after the bombing of Sirasa. At around 10 a.m. on January 8, the editor-in-chief of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga, was killed in his car on his way to work on a busy street in a mixed suburban and semi-industrial 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 by phone for months. The weapons used to kill him were the same as those that would be used two weeks later on Tennakoon—sharply pointed metal bars and wooden poles.

The attacks on the two men came in broad daylight on public roads, using weapons deigned to maim and kill. Clearly they were meant not only to terrorize their victims but anyone who might support them.

CPJ’s special report on the incidents, Failure to Investigate, looked closely at the attacks and at the atmosphere of total impunity that surrounds assaults on journalists in Sri Lanka. Our emphasis on impunity was not misplaced. To date, there have been no meaningful prosecutions in any of the cases.

Sonali Samarasinghe, Wickramatunga’s wife, has been conducting a campaign to have the case investigated and his killers brought to justice. Her Web site, UnbowedandUnafraid seeks to keep his case and those of other Sri Lankan journalists alive. Fearing for her safety, she no longer lives in Sri Lanka. On the anniversary of her husband’s death, she has sent an open letter to President Mahinda Rajapkasa calling for a full investigation

CPJ has already made the case that the government has not brought his killers or the perpetrators of any other acts of violence against any journalists to justice. Ever. Sonali Samarasinghe’s letter calls on President Mahinda Rajapaksa to address those injustices, just as we have been doing. 

Read a pdf of the letter 



What a disgrace the Rajapakse brothers have proven themselves to be. The fact that there is no difference between the tigers and them is clearly seen. This bunch of village thugs have shown the voters their true colors. Now is the time to get rid of this cursed family.

Sri Lanka won't change unless Mahindha and Gota are thrown out.

Sri Lanka will never change until all the corrupt politicians are kicked out of the country and a fresh administration is bought. Every president gives false hopes to people when an election comes. When they get elected, all they do is try to acumulate as much money from the poor people of Sri Lanka. They dont care about any Sri Lankan except their own pockets. So nothing will till the corrupt politicians are kicked out of the country !!!

disgrunted Sri Lankan January 8, 2010 4:05:15 PM ET

Sri Lanka is fast descending into a hell-hole for journalists but it is the insouciance of the international community which repeatedly has been overlooking its gross human rights violations and allowing the massive IMF loan that should take the blame.

The GSP+ status would be granted to Sri Lanka and will go ahead despite all the hue and cry EU is raising since the government would send in its dis-inforamtion counsellors to propagate that all is well with Sri Lanka.

After all did not Mahinda liberate the poor Tamils from the clutches of terrorism and end the 30 year old war.

Never mind Tamils are still living in badly costructed shanties given with the aid of UNHCR and many have not returned home.

This war was created by majority hegemony and marginalistion of its majority minority ethnic Tamils not unlike the Karen community in Burma.

2010 will be a far worse time for minorities and journalists daring to voice opposition to the pyrrhic victory this govt. scored.

A few diplomats whould be feted around camps and Temple Trees and shown show-piece rehabilitation camps and all will be forgotten.

After all it's election time.

When all the celebrations are over and the new President is elected on January 26 it would be another round of jubilations. Nothing ever changes.

Pearl Thevanayagam January 9, 2010 2:39:39 PM ET

Social Media

View All ›