Colombo, Sri Lanka Lasantha Wickrematunge, a prominent Sri Lankan journalist and outspoken critic of the government’s war on ethnic Tamil rebels, knew he was marked for death — and thought he knew why.
Three days after he was gunned down execution-style, Wickrematunge’s newspaper published a haunting, self-written obituary Sunday in which he says he was targeted for his writings and adds: “When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.”
Even as Sri Lanka savors battlefield victories over Tamil Tiger rebels that offer hope of finally ending the decades-long civil war, the government is coping with attacks on another front: It faces harsh criticism from abroad, from at home — even from the grave — over high-profile attacks on the independent media.
Wickrematunge’s death and another attack last week that trashed a television station were the latest in a string of assaults against journalists. Both most-recent media targets had been accused of insufficient patriotism in their coverage of the war and other issues.
International rights groups, diplomats and local activists expressed outrage at the attacks, while opposition politicians accused the government of at best condoning the violence and possibly ordering the strikes itself.
Authorities have denied the accusations and promised a thorough investigation of the media attacks.
“The government does not get involved in these kind of brutal murders,” Cabinet Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said.
Thousands of people turned Wickrematunge’s funeral Monday into a large anti-government protest, lining the streets as his casket was driven in a slow procession to the cemetery. Many wore black armbands and demanded justice.
Journalists critical of the government have come under repeated attack in recent years as the war with the Tamil Tigers intensified. Reporters who ran afoul of the rebels have also come under threat.
According to Amnesty International, at least 14 journalists and Sri Lankans working for the media have been killed since the beginning of 2006. Others have been detained, tortured or have allegedly disappeared, while another 20 have fled the country after getting death threats, the London-based rights group said.