International PEN is outraged by the murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, who was shot and killed on January 8, 2009. PEN calls on the Sri Lankan authorities to do all in its powers to bring those responsible to justice.  It also calls on PEN members to write messages of support to the editor of the Sunday Leader, whose journalists continue to be under threat.

Background Information

According to PEN’s information, Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, aged 52, was shot dead on the morning of January 8, 2009 as he drove to work. Wickramatunga was critically injured, and after three hours of surgery he died from his wounds. Just days beforehand he wrote an extraordinary article predicting his murder, published posthumously in the Sunday Leader on  January 11, 2008:

Lasantha Wickramatunga has been known for many years for his writings focusing on  corruption, governmental policies and the long-standing civil war in the Tamil area of north and east Sri Lanka. He received numerous death threats, was detained on several occasions, and has faced a number of libel cases. In November 2007 the printing press of the Sunday Leader was destroyed after an arson attack. In his last editorial Wickramatunga condemned the Sri Lankan president for failing to seriously investigate these attacks, and accused the government of using the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), known as Tamil Tigers, to remain in power. He also criticized opposition leaders for remaining silent on the country’s conflict, suggesting that journalists were therefore forced to speak out: "That is why more journalists have been attacked in recent years than have opposition politicians," he wrote.

Journalists and media outlets commonly suffer intimidation and violence in Sri Lanka. Some reports suggest the intimidation has gotten worse as the war has intensified between the Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tigers, and the government has been accused of encouraging the violence by accusing critical reporters of being rebel sympathizers and enemies of the state. One of these cases is that of V. Jasikaran and J. S. Tissainayagam, Tamil journalists arrested in early March 2008, who have not yet been sentenced. It is widely believed that the two men are targeted for their reporting and analysis on the ongoing conflict. There are also allegations that both men have been subjected to torture and ill treatment in detention in the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo.

The murder of Lasantha Wickramatunga occurred two days after a private television station was stormed by more that ten heavily armed men who destroyed the station’s equipment. The government had reportedly called this TV station ‘unpatriotic’ for its reporting of the civil war.

Write A Letter

  • Urging the Sri Lankan authorities to do all its powers to bring the murderers of editor Lasantha Wickramatunga to justice;
  • Expressing serious concern for the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka, many of whom are attacked and threatened with apparent impunity for their reporting;
  • Urging the government to fulfill its duty to guarantee the right to freedom of expression in accordance with Article 19 of the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is a state party.

Send Your Letter To

His Excellency the President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Presidential Secretariat
Colombo 1
Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 11 2446657
Salutation: Your Excellency

Hon. Amarasiri Dodangoda
Minister of Justice and Law Reforms
Ministry of Justice and Law Reforms
Superior Courts Complex,
Colombo 12
Sri Lanka
Fax: +94 11 2445447
Salutation: Dear Minister

H. M. G.  S.  Palihakkara
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka to the United Nations
630 Third Avenue, 20th Floor
New York, NY 10017  
Email: [email protected]
Fax: (212) 986-1838

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Sri Lanka in your country if possible.

Please check with PEN if sending appeals after February 12, 2009: ftw[at]