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SRI LANKA – Slain Sri Lankan journalist honoured with UN award

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lasantha wickrematunge.jpgSri
Lankan journalist and editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was
assassinated on 8 January this year, has been named as the laureate of
the 2009 World Press Freedom Prize by the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
lasantha wickrematunge.jpg(Source: UN News Centre)
6 April 2009 – Sri
Lankan journalist and editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was
assassinated on 8 January this year, has been named as the laureate of
the 2009 World Press Freedom Prize by the United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Wickrematunge was an attorney who also began working as an
investigative reporter for the Sun/Davasa newspaper, according to a news release issued by UNESCO.

In 1994, he started the Sunday Leader with his brother and used the
publication to campaign vigorously against the war between the Sri
Lankan army and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In 2000, Wickrematunge secured a court victory which led to the
abolition of the law that allowed the Government to curb the media. In
November 2007, the Sunday Leader was damaged in an arson attack that
Wickrematunge said resembled a "commando action".

"He expected to be assassinated and went so far as to write an
editorial for publication after his death", UNESCO noted. In the
editorial, which appeared in the Sunday Leader three days after he had
been murdered, Wickrematunge voiced his commitment and readiness to
die for press freedom: "[…] there is a calling that is yet above high
office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience".

Wickrematunge was chosen by a jury of 14 professional journalists
from around the world, and is the second reporter in the award's
12-year history to be honoured posthumously. Anna Politkovskaya, the
Russian journalist and outspoken human rights campaigner who was killed
in 2006, was awarded the prize in 2007.

"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", said Joe Thloloe, President of the
jury and Press Ombudsman of the Press Council of South Africa,
referring to the laureate's posthumous editorial.

"Lasantha Wickrematunge continues to inspire journalists around the world", he added.
UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura will present the award in a
ceremony on 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, which the agency will
celebrate this year in the Qatari capital, Doha.

"In awarding the 2009 World Press Freedom Prize to a committed
journalist who opposed war, UNESCO, along with media professionals from
all over the world, recognizes the important role that freedom of
_expression can play in fostering mutual understanding and
reconciliation, the theme of this year's World Press Freedom Day
celebration", said Matsuura.

Created in 1997 by the Paris-based agency's Executive Board, the
UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize is awarded annually to
honour the work of an individual or an organisation defending or
promoting freedom of _expression anywhere in the world, especially if
this action puts the individual's life at risk. Candidates are proposed
by UNESCO Member States, and regional or international organizations
that defend and promote freedom of _expression.

The $25,000 prize, financed by the Cano and Ottaway family foundations,
is named after Guillermo Cano, the Colombian newspaper publisher
assassinated in 1987 for denouncing the activities of powerful drug
barons in his country.

Previous winners include Lydia Cacho (Mexico, 2008), Anna Politkovskaya
(Russian Federation, 2007), May Chidiac (Lebanon, 2006), Cheng Yizhong,
(China, 2005), Raúl Rivero (Cuba, 2004), Amira Hass (Israel, 2003),
Geoffrey Nyarota (Zimbabwe, 2002), U Win Tin (Myanmar, 2001), Nizar
Nayyouf (Syria, 2000), Jesus Blancornelas (Mexico, 1999), Christina
Anyanwu (Nigeria, 1998) and Gao Yu (China, 1997).