Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor of the Sri Lankan weekly newspaper The Sunday Leader, was killed in Colombo last Thursday, 8 January 2009. As he was driving to work, four assassins on motorcycles stopped his car, smashed its windows with crowbars, and attacked him with sharp objects.
The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF) blamed president Mahinda Rajapaksa‘s men for inciting hatred agaisnt Lasantha. The killing confirmed Sri Lanka’s reputation as a killing field for journalists, and underlined its lowly ranking on the 2008 press freedom index. The island-republic stands 165th among 173 countries, the lowest for any democratic country.
In one of his last pieces, Lasantha, a former lawyer, wrote presciently:
“No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism…. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.
“Murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges….
“Why then do we do it? [Because] there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.”
FRANCES HARRISON, in Sri Lanka, has compiled this list of media workers killed in the island since 2006:
24 January 2006: Subramaniyam Sukirtharajan. A Trincomalee port employee as well as a journalist, he was shot dead as he waited for a bus to go to work in the morning. He had published photographs and news reports critical of the army and of paramilitary groups active in Trincomalee, in the newspaper Sudaroli Oli. His photographs of the 5 students killed in Trincomalee helped contest the original reports that they had been killed by grenades.
3 May 2006: Suresh Kumar and Ranjith Kumar. As media workers gathered in Colombo to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, a group of unidentified men attacked the office of the Uthayan newspaper in the northern city of Jaffna. Suresh Kumar, the marketing manager, and Ranjith Kumar, a worker in the circulation department, were killed during this attack. Five others were injured and the office was damaged. The police took six persons in custody.
2 July 2006: Sampa Lakmal de Silva. A freelance journalist, he was shot dead by an unknown group. He was abducted at 5 am from his home in Borallasgamuwa, south of Colombo. His body was found three kilometres from his home.
1 August 2006: Marithas Manojanraj. The newspaper vendor was killed by a mine that detonated as he was on his way to Jaffna on July 27 to collect newspapers for distribution.
16 August 2006: Sathasivam Baskaran. Baskaran, a driver and the distributor of the Jaffna-based Uthayan newspaper, was shot dead in his Uthayan delivery vehicle after taking advantage of the temporary lifting of a curfew to deliver copies of the newspaper. He was shot in his clearly marked vehicle in an area controlled by the Sri Lankan armed forces.
21 August 2006: Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah. Sivamaharajah, managing director of the Jaffna-based Tamil newspaper Namathu Eelanadu, was shot dead in Vellippalai. As a consequence of the murder, the publication of the newspaper was stopped.
19 December 2006: Rushika Prasadini. Prasadini, a journalist, was injured in a car accident with another vehicle driven by a diplomat. She later died in Colombo as a result of her injuries. Her family is seeking justice for the tragic death; however, they are facing obstacles due to “diplomatic immunity”.
16 April 2007: Subash Chandraboas. The editor of the Tamil-language monthly magazine “Nilam” (“the Ground”), the 32-year-old father of an eight-year-old daughter, was shot dead at about 7:30 pm at his residence in Thirunavatkulam, Vavuniya.
30 April 2007: Selvarahj Rajivarnam. Rajivarman, journalist of Uthyan daily, shot dead in Jaffna. He was the crime reporter, who reported on killings and disappearances taking place in Jaffna.
August 2007: Nilakshan Sahadavan. Sahadavan, 22, a journalism student of Jaffna Media Resource Training Centre (MRTC) and a part time journalist, was shot dead by unknown gunmen. Motorbike riding gunmen woke him up at their family home in Kokuvil, Jaffna, around 4 am and shot him injuring seriously. Kokuvil, just 3 miles away from Jaffna city, is heavily guarded by Sri Lanka military and the shooting took place during the curfew hours.
27 Nov 2007: SL government jets bombs Voice of Tigers radio station in Kilinocchi around 4.30 pm, killing 11 civilians among them were three media workers of VOT: Isaivizhi Chempiyan alias Subajini; Suresh Linbiyo; and T. Tharmalingam.
6 December 2007: W. Gunasingha. A provincial correspondent of Sinhala daily Divaina, he was killed when the bus he was travelling was hit by a claymore mine killing 16 people.
28 May 2008: Paranirupasingham Devakumar. Sirasa, Shakthi and MTV Television Network Jaffna district correspondent P. Devakumar was hacked to death in Navanthurei on his way home from Jaffna town. A friend of Devakumar was also killed in the attack. Devakumar, a resident of Vaddukoddai, Jaffna, was 36 years old and married for a year. He had worked for MTV for nearly three years.
Photograph: courtesy Tamilnet
Join the Facebook group: Protesting killing of Journalists in Sri Lanka
Read the Time magazine profile: Dying for journalism