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
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.
William A. Orme, Jr.