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Muzzling The Press In Sri Lanka

The following are the words of Lasantha Wickrematunga, a Sri Lankan newspaper editor who for years exposed official corruption and voiced criticism of the Sri Lankan government:

"No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honor to belong to all those categories and now especially the last."

Mr. Wickrematunga was assassinated by masked gunmen as he drove to work on the morning of January 8th. The paragraph quoted earlier is from his final column, which was published 3 days after his death.

Media groups say that Sri Lanka is one of the most difficult countries in the world in which to report. According to the 2008 report by Reporters Without Borders, a Paris-based international non-governmental organization that advocates freedom of the press, Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2008 press freedom index. This was the lowest ranking of any democratic country.

In both the rebel and government controlled areas, a number of journalists have been intimidated, threatened, harassed, kidnapped or killed. The premises of some media outlets, particularly those perceived as critical of the government, have been attacked and destroyed. And although the government of Sri Lanka has condemned such actions and promised to investigate the crimes, little or no investigation has been done and no one has been brought to justice.

"The United States strongly condemns the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunga," Deputy Spokesman of the Department of State Robert Wood said in a written statement. "The murder ... is a shocking blow to independent media in Sri Lanka. This is ... just the latest in a string of incidents against journalists. The United States is deeply concerned that such attacks undermine efforts to build a united and democratic Sri Lanka where the rights of all people are protected. We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate these attacks expeditiously, bring the perpetrators to justice, and take all possible measures to protect freedom of expression for members of the press."