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IFJ welcomes UNESCO press freedom award to slain journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge

(IFJ/IFEX) - The following is an 8 April 2009 IFJ media release:

IFJ Welcomes Press Freedom Prize to Lasantha Wickrematunge

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has today welcomed the UNESCO decision to award posthumously the World Press Freedom Prize for 2009 to Lasantha Wickrematunge of Sri Lanka.

Lasantha, editor of the Sunday Leader, was killed on 8 January 2009 by gunmen who ambushed his car and shot him several times in central Colombo. He had penned only days earlier a moving editorial about his murder, holding the Sri Lankan government responsible for his death.

The IFJ nominated Lasantha for the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize in recognition of his outstanding contribution to independent journalism and unwavering commitment to journalists' rights.

"We welcome this award to an exceptionally courageous and outstanding journalist," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "Lasantha was an inspiration to us all. This award adds to his legacy and will further inspire future generations of journalists."

In announcing the award, Joe Thloloe, President of the jury and Press Ombudsman of the Press Council of South Africa, said that "jury members were moved to an almost unanimous choice by a man who was clearly conscious of the dangers he faced but nevertheless chose to speak out, even beyond his grave."

The IFJ is concerned at the lack of progress in the investigation of Lasantha's murder and calls for an independent commission of inquiry to take over the task. "The world is watching and this award will only ensure that any attempt to cover up for his murderers will prove futile," added White. "An independent inquiry is needed to establish firewalls and prevent government interference in the investigation."

The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide.

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