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Four years after Sri Lankan journalist's killing, impunity reigns

UPDATE from IFJ: Sri Lanka to reopen investigation into 2009 murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge (23 January 2015)

(IFJ/IFEX) - January 9, 2013 - On the four year anniversary of the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga, the IFJ joins the Free Media Movement (FMM) and other affiliates in Sri Lanka, in paying tribute to his brand of courageous journalism and deploring the dismal failure of the authorities in bringing his killers to account.

In a statement issued on the occasion, the FMM has called on "civil and political society to take the lead in abolishing the killer politics that create and foster murderers and the culture of impunity that allows killers to go scot-free".

Wickrematunga, founder and editor of the Sunday Leader, was renowned in Sri Lanka and abroad for his campaigning style of journalism which targeted corruption in high places and in the war-torn island nation, for his consistent advocacy of peace and inter-ethnic understanding.

His killing, which occurred as Sri Lankan government forces were preparing for the final offensive of the quarter-century long civil war, sent shock waves across the world and precipitated the flight into exile of some of Sri Lanka's best known journalists and human rights defenders.

As the FMM puts it: "The murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga marked the symbolic climax of the unprecedented media suppression that prevailed in Sri Lanka during war time".

Despite the time that has passed since the quarter-century long civil war was declared over, the environment for national reconciliation and the restoration of basic rights remains adverse. In the words of the FMM: "In a society where the culture of the killing of human rights activists and journalists prevails, there is no place for dissent or political criticism. This is the frightful reality we experience at present".

The FMM and associated organisations had in 2011, initiated the observance of January as a "black month" to commemorate Wickrematunga's murder and numerous other atrocities against journalism that by coincidence or otherwise, occurred in that month. The campaign attracted the hostile attention of government spokespersons and was attacked in most extreme terms over the state-owned media.

The IFJ regrets that despite the explicit recommendations rendered by a highly-empowered body appointed by Sri Lanka's President - the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission - the government is yet to initiate any measures to bring to account those responsible for attacks on journalists that occurred during the civil war and after.

On this anniversary of Wickrematunga's murder, the IFJ joins the FMM and other partners in appealing that due priority be given to abolishing the culture of impunity and restoring freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.

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