Freedom of expression is again under assault in Sri Lanka. On October 22, two editors at the Sunday Leader (a Sri Lankan newspaper), Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq, received identical death threats in the mail, handwritten in red ink. Ms. Jansz is the editor-in-chief and Ms. Mushataq is the news editor. The threats relate to coverage by the paper of a video which allegedly showed Sri Lankan soldiers executing Tamil prisoners.
The paper’s founder and former editor-in-chief, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was killed last January after receiving a similar death threat three weeks earlier. No one has yet been prosecuted for his murder.
Last month, Dileesha Abeysundera, who works for the Sinhala-language edition of the Sunday Leader, was threatened. The newspaper has suffered numerous serious attacks on its staff and offices in the past.
Over the past three years, numerous journalists have been detained in Sri Lanka while others have fled the country. At least 14 media workers have been killed. Investigations haven’t resulted in prosecutions. For more on this issue, see the AI report, “Sri Lanka: Silencing dissent.”
Amnesty International has issued an urgent action appeal calling on the Sri Lankan government to ensure the safety of Frederica Jansz and Munza Mushataq, and to investigate the death threats received by them and the attacks on other Sri Lankan journalists and media workers. Please take action in response to our appeal and write to President Mahinda Rajapaksa (email: email@example.com). Thanks for your help.
Yesterday morning, a brave Sri Lankan journalist paid the ultimate price for freedom of expression. Lasantha Wickramatunga, the editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, was shot by unidentified gunmen while on his way to work. He died a few hours later of his injuries. The Sunday Leader newspaper is known in Sri Lanka for its articles exposing political corruption in privatization deals and for drawing attention to human rights abuses in connection with the recent upsurge in fighting between the government and the opposition Tamil Tigers.
This isn’t the first time that the Sunday Leader and its staff have come under attack. In 2006, Mr. Wickramatunga was threatened with arrest over an article critical of the president. In 2007, the printing presses of the Leader group of publications were attacked by 10 armed men who threatened employees and set fire to some of the equipment.
Mr. Wickramatunga’s murder occurred just two days after the privately owned MVC/MTV television studios were ransacked by a gang of thugs. MVC/MTV had also been critical of the government.
At least 14 journalists or other media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka over the past three years. More than 20 journalists have left the country due to death threats. Others have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and disappeared while in custody of the security forces.
The Sri Lankan President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, has publicly condemned the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga and directed the Police to investigate his killing. However, the Police have yet to find the killers of any of the other murdered journalists. What hope is there that they’ll be any more effective in this case? Will we see more assassinations like this in the days to come?
Please take a few minutes out of your day to email President Rajapaksa (firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com) and Ambassador Jaliya Wickramasuriya (firstname.lastname@example.org ). Tell them an independent investigation into Mr. Wickramatunga’s murder and the other attacks on journalists is urgently needed now. His killers must be found and tried. Otherwise, I may have more stories like this one to report in future.
* This report comes from Amnesty’s country specialist on Sri Lanka, Jim McDonald.