Sri Lanka: Vicious attacks on media and killing of editor

Protests and solidarity action needed.

On Thursday January 8, in broad daylight the prominent and respected editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was hit in the head by gun-fire through his windscreen as his vehicle was stationary in traffic. He died in hospital three hours later. No one was apprehended or has been found and held for this heinous crime.

Three days before this, the premises of a TV station that has given some objective reporting of recent carnage and human suffering in the war, was raided and wrecked. Thugs held staff captive while all the vital equipment was destroyed. Even though the ’operation’ lasted a full half an hour, the perpetrators could get away from the premises without hindrance.

These violent attacks, undoubtedly with government collusion, have been aimed at silencing any media which is critical of the Rajapakse government, especially over the war which is still raging. One British newspaper has spoken of casualties “on the scale of Gaza”. The president himself, Mahinda Rajapakse, has taken on the portfolio of Media Minister to clamp down on objective, critical reporting. Now his rotten, war-mongering government has adopted the most extreme measures to prevent people like Lasantha from exposing the corrupt practices of himself and his clan. (At present there are four Rajapakse brothers in the government!)

Amnesty International reported last November on the killing of at least ten media employees since 2006. There have been frequent protests by journalists and other media personnel against their persecution. Lasantha even suggested more journalists than opposition politicians were being killed by the regime because the party leaders had not been raising their voices.

Roland Buerk of the British Broadcasting Corporation says, “The government has been accused of encouraging the violence, by branding reporters as critical rebel-sympathisers and enemies of the state”. International media freedom groups such as Reporters without Borders say that intimidation and violence make Sri Lanka one of the most difficult countries in the world in which to report. They have commented that with the murder of the Sunday Leader editor, “Sri Lanka has lost one of its more talented, courageous and iconoclastic journalists”. (Lasantha had also had a weekly programme on the TV station knocked completely out of action by the raid of MTV studios.)

Sri Lankan trade union and opposition leaders held a public protest on Friday, 9 January and are calling for world-wide condemnation of this latest brutal killing. The International Federation of Journalists and Reporters without Borders have taken up the issue but stronger action is needed.

The funeral of Lasantha Wickrematunge is being held on Monday 12 January. The Civil Monitoring,Committee, a body which has exposed hundreds of cases of cover-ups in relation to extra-judicial kidnappings and killings in Sri Lanka, is calling for messages of condemnation to be sent to the Sri Lankan government and demands to be made for an independent inquiry. They are also calling for loud protests to be made outside Sri Lankan embassies world-wide. The day proposed is next Wednesday, 14 January.

The United Socialist Party (CWI Sri Lanka) is at the forefront of protests and campaigns against the war, for press freedom, for the right of self-determination of the Tamil-speaking people and for an end to the present Sinhala chauvinist and dictatorial government. It has consistently campaigned for a united struggle of Sinhala and Tamil workers and poor people against imperialism and capitalism, with socialist policies. In doing so, the lives and freedom of its members and supporters are, at present, constantly in danger. Any financial support to help with their defence and with the campaigning work of the party is very welcome. Donations can be made to Campaign Sri Lanka.


On line (add the words ’Campaign Sri Lanka’ to the comment box) or send cheques to Campaign Sri Lanka c/o Committee for a Workers’ International, PO Box 3688, London, Britain, E11 1YE

Emails for protests about the Lasantha killing and attacks on press freedom

Protest message sent from Committee for a Workers’ International

We condemn the daylight murder in Colombo on Thursday, 8 January,of Lasantha Wickrematunge, editor of the Sunday Leader a well-known critic of the Rajapakse government. It comes within three days of a half-hour rampage by thugs who destroyed the MTV station, without any intervention from the forces of the state.

We express our grave concern that the rights of journalists and other media personnel are being trampled on and their lives put in peril. These two events indicate the extent to which the Rajapakse government will go to silence those who speak the truth. It has tried to whip up a campaign against them which has encouraged thugs to carry out these vicious attacks.

With new ’victories’ in the war against the Tamil Tigers, the present government will stop at nothing to prevent the truth of the bloodshed and human suffering being told. They also want to cover up the corrupt and dictatorial methods they use.

The killing of this prominent figure also means that ordinary workers who oppose the government as well as human rights workers and political activists are in danger.

We demand an independent inquiry into the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge and all journalists murdered in Sri Lanka in the recent war period, under the control of genuine representatives of journalists, human rights and workers’ organisations. An end to the war in Sri Lanka and the killings and intimidation of media and opposition personnel. True freedom of the media and the restoration of all human and democratic rights in Sri Lanka.

Special financial appeal to all readers of

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January 2009