Thursday’s killing of a prominent investigative journalist in Sri Lanka’s capital Colombo has once more raised concern and anger over the growing number of attacks on journalists in the country.
Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickremetunga was shot by unidentified gunmen close to a security check point in the city as his car sat in rush-hour traffic.
His death came just two days after heavily armed men attacked the studios of the private Maharaja television station using claymore mines and grenades.
An outspoken critic of the Sri Lankan government and its ongoing conflict with the minority Tamils, Mr Wickremetunga often locked horns with politicians in his drive to expose corruption, even facing a court battle with the President’s brother, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who sued for defamation over stories that criticised the war and alleged procurement graft.
The President himself, Mahinda Rajapaksa, said in statement on Thursday that he condemned the killing and had ordered an investigation into Mr Wickremetunga’s death. But critics of the government have long been unhappy with previous investigations into the deaths of journalists in the country.
Many of those journalists have died not in the conflict zones in the north and east of the country – independent reporters have been banned from those areas for much of the past two decades. Instead they have met their fate in the capital Colombo, targeted by unknown gunmen or assailants who have rarely, if ever, been bought to book.
So dangerous has being a journalist in Sri Lanka become that press freedom groups count it among the world’s most hazardous countries for reporters. As the army continues to surge north, today capturing the Elephant Pass, a key strategic causeway that links the Jaffna Peninsula with the mainland, the government is approaching what it hopes will be the final stages in the bloody 25 year insurgency by Tamil Tiger rebels fighting for a separate homeland.
Open criticism of the government’s handling of that conflict has often meant journalists have paid with their lives for daring to question the government line. So as politicians in Colombo carefully watch their army’s push towards a possible conclusion, journalists across the country will be wondering at what price it may come.