AHRC fears more killing following Senior Editor's assassination

[TamilNet, Thursday, 08 January 2009, 12:19 GMT]
Calling on the "local and international community to take note of the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka and to do all [they] can to intervene for the purpose of saving lives," Asian Hurman Rights Commission (AHRC), a Hong Kong based rights watchdog, in press release issued today, warned that the situation points to "establishment of a dictatorship with the help of some sections of the military," and that "[i]f the local and the international community ignore this situation it may once more have to regret yet another situation of carnage."

Full text of the press release follows:

The Asian Human Rights Commission, which two days ago raised the alarm on the possibility of more political assassinations in Sri Lanka is saddened by the confirmation of this within less than 48 hours by the assassination of Lasantha Wickramatunga, a prominent journalist. The AHRC once more calls on the local and international community to take note of the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka and to do all it can to intervene for the purpose of saving lives.

Lasantha Wickramatunga, the Chief Editor of the English weekly, the Sunday Leader, and one of the most senior and prominent journalists was fatally injured this morning, January 8, 2009, by two gunmen who followed him on his way to work. He noticed the two men following him on a motorbike and through his mobile telephone informed several of his friends. His death was reported this afternoon of head injuries despite of strenuous efforts by a medical team to save him. Mr. Wickramatunga was a primary target of the Rajapakse regime and particularly the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Gottabaya Rajapakse. An unsuccessful attempt was made to arrest Mr. Wickramatunga which was prevented by some senior police officers who refused to arrest him and also due to strong intervention on the part of journalists who gathered at his premises. Thereafter the printing press of the Sunday Leader, which was situated close to a security zone was attacked and burned by a group of unidentified persons who were never arrested. It is widely believed that the group was sent by the ruling party and was probably from some section of the armed forces.

Just two days earlier about 20 unidentified attackers raided the premises of Sirasa TV and caused damage amounting to Rs. 200 million to the communications equipment. The group assaulted the staff and left a Claymore mine said to weight eight and half kilograms. Sirasa TV is the most important centre for the independent media in Sri Lanka. The opposition leader said that the government is responsible for the attack and that members of a military unit carried it out.

In protest against these attacks the opposition United National Party walked out of parliament this afternoon. The earlier attack on Sirisa TV provoked protests from journalists and the opposition and also from foreign embassies including the United States. Following the attack the AHRC issued a statement entitled, SRI LANKA: The attack on Sirasa TV an early warning of worse things to come, which predicted:

The massive attack on the Sirasa TV station brings gloomy predictions of things to come in the very near future to a country which is already bedeviled by lawlessness, violence and corruption.......... However, there is no rational basis to expect things to become any better but, in fact, reason to believe that worse things are yet to come. If there was to be political assassinations of opposition leaders, trade union leaders, journalists, human rights activists and others who stand for democracy, rule of law and human rights it would be the natural course of things arising out of a buildup which has already taken place.

In less than 48 hours this prediction has been unfortunately proved true. Both the attack on the senior editor Lasantha Wickramatunga and Sirasa TV appears to be part of a scheme to physically exterminate a number of persons that seem to have been listed as undesirables by this regime. In all likelihood many other unidentified gunmen must be lying in wait for opposition members of parliament, for independent journalists, for lawyers appearing against the government or against prominent leaders of government in courts and for judges making unfavourable decisions against the government. The Rajapakse regime is pursuing a murderous course which is likely to claim many more lives.

The political aim of such attacks is the establishment of a dictatorship with the help of some sections of the military. Military spokesmen now frequently speak in the state media and directly or indirectly attack the opposition, blaming that the criticism against the government creates divisions in the country at a time when unity is required to defeat terrorism. Many spokesmen for the opposition parties have blamed the government for using the 'war' against the LTTE as a propaganda ploy to suppress and eliminate the opposition.

Globally Sri Lanka has been declared as the second most dangerous place for journalists, the first being Iraq. Now it can be said without exaggeration that it is also the most dangerous place for anyone that the government suspects to be an opponent.

The Asian Human Rights Commission once again raises the alarm, locally and internationally, about the situation of tremendous repression that is being unleashed in Sri Lanka, particularly in the capital which may claim many lives and attack liberties. It is time to express active solidarity for all persons, opposition political parties, trade unions, journalists and all others who will now have to brave these terrible attacks. The army victories in Kilinochchi seem to be leading to a celebration of the shedding of the blood of the government's opponents. If the local and the international community ignore this situation it may once more have to regret yet another situation of carnage.


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