Sri Lankan Journalist Attacked
Gunman Opens Fire on Home of Sunday Leader Editor Wickrematunge
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Her Excellency
Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga President of Sri Lanka
Colombo, Sri Lanka

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18 June 1998


Your Excellency,

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the armed attack on the residence of Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, on Wednesday evening in Colombo. In a context of escalating violence against the press and with new censorship regulations, this latest attack undermines the ability of Sri Lankan journalists to carry out their work.

At approximately 10:30 pm, shortly after Wickrematunge and his family returned home from dinner, a Toyota "Hi-Ace" van pulled up outside the gates of their residence. A man emerged armed with a T 56 assault rifle and opened fire, emptying a clip of approximately 30 rounds into the house and causing extensive damage, according to witnesses. Fortunately, no one was injured in the attack.

The weekly Sunday Leader newspaper has been critical of the ruling People's Alliance government and had recently published articles questioning the integrity of Media Minister Mangala Samaraweera and other officials. "Someone is sending us a message," said Lal Wickrematunge, the managing director of the newspaper and the brother of Lasantha. Samaraweera quickly condemned the attack and the police have stationed armed guards outside the home of Wickrematunge while announcing a full investigation into the incident.

This is the second time in recent months that a prominent journalists has been attacked in Sri Lanka. In February, armed men invaded the home of Iqbal Athas, the defense correspondent for the Sunday Times newspaper of Colombo. While two soldiers were arrested in that incident, they were quickly released on bail and there has been little progress in punishing those responsible. In addition, on June 5 Your Excellency's government imposed a harsh regime of direct military censorship on all press coverage of the civil war in Sri Lanka.

As a non-partisan organization dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ is concerned about the deteriorating conditions for the press in Sri Lanka. We denounce the attack on Wickrematunge in the strongest possible terms and call on you to put the full force of your office behind a thorough investigation into this incident.

We are further concerned, however, that this latest attack is part of a climate of intolerance toward the press aggravated by the censorship regulations. Censorship and physical attacks on journalists are a threat to the very existence of a democratic society. We urge Your Excellency to address this crisis in the press forcefully by guaranteeing that journalists will be protected from attack while also taking steps to lift the censorship regulations currently in effect.


Yours sincerely,

William A. Orme, Jr.

Executive Director