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THEY CONTINUE TO COME FOR US

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Sunday, 30 October 2011 11:04 No Comment]

The Editor and the journalists of this newspaper, The Sunday Leader, continue working under death threats.

Having already murdered its former editor Lasantha Wickrematunge there are factions in this country which continue to threaten journalists working on this newspaper – unable to understand the very principles of the freedom of expression or that there are journalists in this country who continue to function independent of the State and the Executive, devoid of any political and personal bias.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, the paper’s previous editor, was killed in January 2009 following a number of death threats and assaults, by four men riding military-style motorbikes in a high security zone. Nothing has been done to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Sri Lanka was once prosperous and enjoyed freedom of the press in the 1950s and 1960s, but then the government began to discriminate against the Tamil minority in relation to access to tertiary level education, land ownership and employment in the public service. A large group of young Tamil men wanted independence for the north-eastern area of the country, home to about two million Tamils, while about 500,000 lived in the capital, Colombo.

The Tamil Tigers militant organization killed a number of soldiers, members of the majority Sinhalese community, and when their bodies were brought home this unleashed a wave of attacks against Tamil civilians in Colombo, who were forced out of their homes or killed. Tamils left in droves. There was no remorse, no investigations.

While The Sunday Leader, founded in 1994, did not support the Tamil Tigers, it did describe what the majority had done, or failed to do.

The newspaper also fought to expose corruption and promote good governance and Lasantha Wickrematunge had such good contacts among both the government and opposition parties that he could carry detailed reports in the Sunday paper of discussions at the Cabinet meeting which had taken place the previous Wednesday.

Our readers may recall how Lasantha Wickrematunge wrote to then President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga asking her to verify the accuracy of the academic qualifications she claimed. A letter came back from her office stating that “a letter to Her Excellency the President is only forwarded to her when it is sent from a human being and not an insect like you.”

The following week the paper published this correspondence, and the week after it carried a letter from the French university she claimed to have attended stating it knew nothing of her.

Two weeks later armed persons walked into our printers, held staff at gunpoint and set fire to the premises. The presses were burned a second time and the home of Lasantha sprayed with machine gun fire. He continued to receive death threats, until he was finally murdered. This came in January 2009.

Those responsible have never been brought to justice, and the newspaper is now facing a defamation action from the Secretary for Defence who is suing it for 2 billion rupees.

In October 2009 Editors at The Sunday Leader again came under threat. The Editor and News Editor were both sent two hand written death threats by post.

The two letters were identical — written in red ink and appeared to have been posted on October 21, 2009.  Coincidentally, the late Lasantha Wickrematunge, founder Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader was sent a similar missive — also written in red ink — in December 2008, three weeks before he was murdered.

This newspaper has consistently in the entire 15 years of its existence, come under attack. We have been burnt, bombed, sealed, harassed and threatened, culminating in January 2009 with the brutal killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge. Not satisfied with that assassination, The Sunday Leader has continued to come under attack.

In 2010, five lawyers who appeared for The Sunday Leader were branded ‘traitors’ by the government’s very own Defence Ministry website. This was followed by another article also posted on the Defence Ministry website by none other that the Defence Secretary himself Gotabhaya Rajapaksa where he reiterated the position of the previous article on the Defence Ministry website going a step further and accusing the five lawyers appearing for The Sunday Leader as running “to their Nanny” the Bar Association of Sri Lanka.

Rajapaksa’s defensive and angry rebuttal followed the BASL and the International Bar Association having issued statements on the incident condemning the actions of the Defence Ministry.

Thereafter, continuing this war against The Sunday Leader, in September, the web page of the Media Centre for National Security carried a slanderous article refuting certain statements made to Al Jazeera by the Editor of this newspaper in relation to the infamous Channel 4 video. The article went so far as to even carry terminology such as “prostituting and prostitute”.  Similar to the threatening letter received last Thursday and published elsewhere on our pages this week.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it is a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by its name. We do not hide behind euphemisms. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 18 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

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