The editor of a Sri Lankan newspaper critical of the government was shot dead as he drove to work today, the second violent attack on media this week.
Lasantha Wickramatunga had accused President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government of corruption. Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the president’s powerful brother, is suing the newspaper for defamation.
As Wickramatunga drove to work during the rush hour outside the capital Colombo, two gunmen rode up on a motorcycle and opened fire, police said. No one has been arrested.
Colleagues said Wickramatunga had received threats recently. In 2007, his paper’s printing presses were burned down.
Media rights groups have accused the government and its supporters of trying to stifle dissent in the war-racked country by vilifying journalists seen as critical and creating an atmosphere of impunity for those who attack them.
Media Minister Anura Yapa, who said he was a friend of Wickramatunga, said authorities would conduct a full investigation.
“We believe in the freedom of the press and freedom of the journalists. We don’t want to harm anyone,” he said.
But media rights activist Poddala Jayantha said the assault was part of an effort to silence the media.
“The government has failed to prevent attacks on the media and, at the same time, has not brought the culprits responsible for previous attacks to justice,” he said.
The shooting came two days after gunmen armed with assault rifles and grenades raided a private television station and destroyed much of its equipment. No one was seriously injured.
State media had accused the station and its affiliates of not being “patriotic” enough in covering the government’s recent victories over ethnic Tamil separatists.