Media activists protest against Lasantha assassination

[TamilNet, Friday, 09 January 2009, 21:41 GMT]
Hundreds of media activists took to the streets in Colombo Friday protesting against the assassination of one of the prominent journalists in Colombo and Chief Editor of Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickramatunga, who was shot dead Thursday. The protesters accused Rajapaksa regime for the prevailing impunity as heavily armed military personnel ringed the area of protest at Regal Junction, the metropolitan heart of the city. Meanwhile, opposition parties have blamed the government for using the military achievements in its war against the LTTE as a propaganda ploy to suppress and eliminate the opposition.

Colombo protest

Two gunmen on a motorbike followed the 51-year-old editor while he was on his way to office at Attidiya on the outskirts of the city. Mr. Wikramatunga noticed the men who were following him and notified his friends through the mobile phone. Later, he was shot and rushed to Kalubowila hospital and succumbed to his injuries at the hospital.

There had been several earlier attacks on the late editor, and on one occasion his newspaper was also torched but no one has so far been arrested in this connection.

Colombo protest
Colombo protest
Colombo protest
The killing of Wickrematunga comes barely 48 hours after a popular and independent TV station (MTV/MBC) network was attacked and extensively destroyed by unidentified goons during the early hours of Tuesday.

The main opposition United National Party (UNP) has called for an international panel to carry out an investigation into Mr. Wickrematunga's killing, saying they had not faith in local investigators.

National Peace Council, a Colombo based peace group on Friday said: "As editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge was fearless in exposing political weaknesses and corruption in the government and in society in general, and the impunity that accompanies them. He also advocated a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict and highlighted the cost of the war which the government is undertaking."

The Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), in a press statement condemning the assassination said: "Globally Sri Lanka has been declared as the second most dangerous place for journalists, the first being Iraq. Now it can be said without exaggeration that it is also the most dangerous place for anyone that the government suspects to be an opponent."

"Both the attack on the senior editor Lasantha Wickramatunga and Sirasa TV appears to be part of a scheme to physically exterminate a number of persons that seem to have been listed as undesirables by this [Rajapaksa] regime," the AHRC said calling on the local and international community to take note of the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka and to do all it can to intervene for the purpose of saving lives. "The Rajapakse regime is pursuing a murderous course which is likely to claim many more lives," the rights group said.

New York based Human Rights Commission, in its reaction to the slaying of the editor, said: "Wickremetunga's in-depth investigations into corruption and nepotism in the Sri Lankan government frequently made him the target of intimidation attempts and lawsuits," and added: "Impunity for human rights violations remains a disturbing norm in Sri Lanka. The government's unwillingness to hold accountable those responsible for serious violations has fostered an environment in which journalists have come under increased attack.

Reporters without borders (RSF), in its 2008 press freedom index, has ranked Sri Lanka 165 out of 173 countries.

Media activists fear that there is a concerted effort to stifle the independent media, and have called upon the regime to arrest this dangerous trend without further delay.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has accused outside forces for the incidents saying they were  attempting to muddy the image of the Government following its recent battle field victories against the LTTE.



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