Sri Lankan defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa reportedly verbally abused Sunday Leader editor Frederica Jansz during a telephone interview last week. Jansz had asked the minister if he was aware that an aircraft scheduled to fly to Zurich was to be changed to accommodate a personal friend. During the conversation Rajapaksa told Jansz people “will kill you — you dirty fucking shit journalist”, and threatened to sue the newspaper if they ran the story. The Sunday Leader won the Index/Guardian Freedom of Expression award for journalism in 2009.
Lal Wickrematunge’s brother, Lasantha, was murdered one year ago. Here he assesses the ongoing cost of the war in Sri Lanka
In April of this year, Sunday leader proprieter Lal Wickrematunge accepted an Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Award on behalf of the beleaguered Sri-Lankan newspaper. Lal’s brother Lasantha was asassinated in January 2009. The Sunday Leader had been, and continues to be, a thorn in the side of President Mahinda RajapaskaMahinda Rajapaska, and his brother, defence minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa. In recent months, the paper has been sued for contempt of court after publishing a profile of the defence minister. Lawyers defending it have been described as “traitors” by government agencies.
Now the Leader reports that Frederica Jansz, Editor-in-Chief of and Munza Mushtaq, News Editor, have received threatening letters similar to those received by Lasantha weeks before his murder.
In a forthright editorial, the Sunday Leader has outlined its response to the threats:
“The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.
“From us you learn the state of your nation, and especially its management by the people you elected to give your children a better future. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. The journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.”
The Sunday Leader is an important independent voice in a country that is sliding into autocracy. Sri Lanka’s authorities and the international community must strive to ensure that its reporters and editors can work free from intimidation and violence.
Six months after the Sunday Leader editor was slain, Uvindu Kurukulasuriya looks at increasing state control of Sri Lankan media