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IFJ Calls for Inquiry Into Lasantha′s Murder

May 12, 2009

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins the widow of Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge in calling on Sri Lanka′s power-holders to take immediate action to conduct a full, fair and independent investigation into the murder of the senior newsman.

Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge, also a journalist, has publicly released a letter she wrote to Sri Lanka′s President, Mahinda Rajapakse, on April 24 voicing her grave concerns at the Government′s failure to investigate the January 8 murder of her husband.

Lasantha, editor of the Sunday Leader, was killed by gunmen who ambushed his car and shot him several times in central Colombo. Days earlier, he had penned a moving editorial predicting his murder and holding the Sri Lankan Government responsible.

In her letter, Sonali calls on the President to initiate and accept an international inquiry, noting that countries such the United States, India and those represented in the European Union would likely be willing to provide experts and detectives to assist the inquiry.

"The IFJ stands with Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge in appealing to the highest levels of the Government in Sri Lanka to authorise an independent commission of inquiry into Lasantha′s murder in accordance with international standards of justice," IFJ General Secretary Aidan White said. "Four months after Lasantha′s murder, a high-level independent investigation is needed to redress the failure of Sri Lanka′s authorities to act."

Sonali′s letter states her belief that the Government has sought to cover up the facts of her husband′s murder. Everyone except the police seems to know who killed him, she wrote.

She stressed that not one attack on the media in Sri Lanka has been seriously investigated. No one has even been charged. These incidents include a long series of attacks and threats against Lasantha. Sonali noted that Rajapaksa himself had threatened her husband by phone.

"Under your presidency, violence against journalists has become commonplace," she wrote. "Your government has been forced publicly to accept in parliament that nine journalists have been murdered in Sri Lanka during the past two years of your presidency. International agencies put this figure at 16. Dozens of others have disappeared, suffered physical assault, been arbitrarily detained without trial or been forced to flee overseas for fear of their lives. Numerous other media institutions have been violently attacked in commando-style raids and, in some cases, their employees slaughtered in cold blood.

"… Never in the history of Sri Lanka has a government so ruthlessly suppressed media freedom and political dissent."

The publication of the letter follows the posthumous award of UNESCO′s 2009 World Press Freedom Prize to Lasantha. At a World Press Freedom Day event on May 3, Lasantha′s niece read out a statement from Sonali in which she applauded the courage of Sri Lanka′s journalism community, and the reality of the extreme risks they continue to confront.

"… Apart from those who have lost their lives, we need to remember also those journalists who languish in Sri Lankan prisons with no charge or with only the flimsiest and most childish of contrived charges pressed against them. In other cases, false charges are levelled so as to harass dissenting journalists. Dozens of journalists-including myself-have been forced to flee Sri Lanka. I have no doubt that should I return to Sri Lanka, my remaining days would be few indeed."

For the full statement, see:

For the letter to President Rajapaksa, see:

For more information contact:
IFJ Asia-Pacific
Phone: +612 9333 0919

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