In Sri Lanka it is a very serious concern that even after the government’s declaration of war victory and end of war, intimidation and harassment of media and journalists continue with increasing ferocity. People of Sri Lanka are deprived of their right to information and media and journalists are forced to practice an unprecedented level of self-censorship.
34 Journalists and media workers have been killed with no recourse to justice since the present government was formed. Out of 34 killed three were Sinhala journalists, one Muslim and 30 were from the Tamil community. These killings and abductions clearly demonstrate the culture of impunity that prevails in Sri Lanka.
When Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sunday Leader was killed, Gotabaya Rajapaksa [present President of Sri Lanka] was secretary to the ministry of defence. As brother of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa wielded unparalleled military influence, earning a reputation as the country’s most feared bureaucrat. When Lasantha Wickrematunge exposed a corrupt arm deal Rajapaksa had signed on, he broke the silence in the press about the activities of the defense secretary.
Years later, Sri Lankan criminal investigators alleged that Gotabaya Rajapaksa operated military death squads to attack journalists, including Wickrematunge and Keith Noyahr. Rajapaksa has consistently denied this and all other allegations of wrongdoing.
From 2005 to 2015, [Mahinda Rajapaksa’s rule] a systematic assault on the press took place. The Committee to Protect Journalists estimates that 13 journalists were killed over the decade. Others were threatened, abducted and tortured. Tamil journalists were disproportionately victimized. In 2014, Sri Lanka ranked fourth on an index of countries where journalists are slain – and their killers go scot free.
Journalism’s calling is to speak truth to power. But every time a journalist is attacked, and the perpetrators go free, the space for independent reporting shrinks. In that decade of darkness from 2005 to 2015, the priority for Sri Lankan journalists was to just stay alive.
The widespread belief in the politically motivated killings of journalists in Sri Lanka is predicated on a deadly irony: the hidden hand has always been visible, but the fingerprints have gone missing.
The most widely publicized killings relate to the Editor-in-Chief of the Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge, in January 2009.
Wickrematunge was killed on 8 January 2009 around 10.25 a.m. near the Attidiya Model Primary School and it was later revealed that the assailants had followed Wickrematunge and attacked him while he was on his way to work from home.
A few months after the murder, the CID made a revelation in the case pertaining to the suspected murderer and arrested a person named Jesudasan in Nuwara Eliya, whose death while in police custody still remains a mystery. The CID was then removed from the investigation.
After President Maithiripala Srisena Government came into power in 2015, the case was re-opened, but had not made considerable progress with the CID unable to find evidence that could directly connect anyone to the murder.
UNESCO has the annual UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize awarded on 3 May that honors a person, organization or institution that has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion of press freedom. Lasantha was awarded this prize in 2009. He became only the second journalist to be honored posthumously since this prize was created, and a testimony to the risk many journalists run in the pursuit of their calling.
In 2009 Mr Ban Ki-moon the then UN Secretary General highlighted Lasantha’s assassination during his remarks on Press Freedom Day.
Recorded List Of Killings Of Journalists And Media Workers – April 2004 – March 2009
- Aiyathurai A. Nadesan – Journalist / 31 May
- Kandaswamy Aiyer Balanadaraj – Writer / 16 August
- Lanka Jayasundera – Photo journalist/ 11 December
- Dharmaratnam Sivaram – Editor / 28 April
- Kannamuttu Arsakumar – Media worker/ 29 June
- Relangee Selvarajah – Journalist / 12 August
- D. Selvaratnam – Media worker/ 29 August
- Yogakumar Krishnapillai – Media Worker / 30 September
- L. M. Faleel (Netpittimunai Faleel) – Writer / 02 December
- K. Navaratnam – Media worker/ 22 December
- Subramaniam Suhirtharajan – Journalist / 24 January
- S. T. Gananathan – Owner / 01 February
- Bastian George Sagayathas – Media worker / 03 May
- Rajaratnam Ranjith Kumar – Media worker / 03 May
- Sampath Lakmal de Silva – Journalist / 02 July
- Mariadasan Manojanraj – Media worker/ 01 August
- Pathmanathan Vismananthan – Singer and musician / 02 August
- Sathasivam Baskaran – Media worker / 15 August
- Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah – Media owner / 20 August
- S. Raveendran – Media worker / 12 February
- Subramaniam Ramachandran – Media personnel / 15 February
- Chandrabose Suthakar – Journalist / 16 April
- Selvarasah Rajeevarman – Journalist / 29 April
- Sahadevan Neelakshan – Journalist / 01 August
- Anthonypillai Sherin Siththiranjan – Media worker/ 05 November
- Vadivel Nimalarajah – Media worker/ 17 November
- Isaivizhi Chempian (Subhajini) – Media worker/ 27 November
- Suresh Limbiyo – Media worker/ 27 November
- T. Tharmalingam – Media worker/ 27 November
- Paranirupesingham Devakumar – Journalist / 28 May
- Rashmi Mohamad – Journalist / 06 October
- Lasanntha Wickrematunge – Editor / 08 January
- Punniyamurthy Sathyamurthy – Journalist / 12 February
- Sasi Mathan – Media worker/ 06 March
*Kumarathasan Rasingam – Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org