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SRI LANKA: Newspaper editor assassinated, media under attack

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sri_lanka_editor_killed.jpgLasantha Wickramatunga, a high-profile and outspoken critic of the Sri Lankan government, was on his way to work on the morning of January 8 when he was shot and killed by unidentified attackers.

Four motorcyclists in black clothes and helmets obstructed his vehicle before smashing through his car window with a steel bar and shooting him point-blank in the head, chest and stomach. People in the vicinity immediately rushed him to Colombo's Kalubowila Hospital, where doctors attempted to resuscitate him.

He died of head injuries shortly after 2pm.
As editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader, a popular newspaper highly critical of the government and renowned for its exposés of scandals and corruption, Wickramatunga had previously been subject to death threats and personal attacks.

He was recently sued for defamation by Sri Lanka's Defence Minister, and the Sunday Leader's printing press was broken into and set on fire.
The murder also comes two days after the premises of an independent broadcaster were raided by masked men armed with rifles and grenades, prompting the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to warn of the possibility of political assassinations and escalating attacks on individuals. Press freedom groups believe Sri Lanka to be among the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists.

International human rights groups, press freedom associations and foreign governments have denounced the killing. Sri Lanka's opposition United National Party forced parliament to close early on Friday in protest.

The Sri Lankan government has denied responsibility, and has ordered a thorough investigation into the incident. However critics have expressed concern that the government was complicit in Wickramatunga's murder. The attack was highly professional and audacious, taking place in broad daylight only 100 metres from army checkpoints in the nearby high security zone.
According to the AHRC, the ruling regime is systematically eliminating dissenters.

It warned that "many other unidentified gunmen must be lying in wait for opposition members of parliament, for independent journalists, for lawyers appearing against the government or against prominent leaders of government in courts and for judges making unfavourable decisions against the government. The Rajapakse regime is pursuing a murderous course which is likely to claim many more lives."