A senior Sri Lankan editor known for her anti-government stance has fled the country with her family following death threats after an armed attack on her house which she suspected was intended to find some sensitive documents, a local media watchdog said on Wednesday.
Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, co-editor of Sunday Leader newspaper, yesterday headed “to a North American country”, joining some 80 journalists who have sought refuge abroad since President Mahinda Rajapaksa came to power in 2005, the Free Media Movement (FMM) said.
Five burglars broke into her house in a pre-dawn raid on August 24, 2013 and held her at knife point as they searched her Colombo home for nearly three hours before one burglar was killed in a shootout with the police.
Last month, the military admitted that two of the five men were soldiers who had deserted the Army, but denied that security forces were behind the crime.
“She (Ms. Abeywickrema) had received several death threats after she raised her suspicions that the gang was not looking for valuables but for some documents,” the FMM said.
She suspected that the intruders were looking for the documents related to a major state land scam she was investigating.
“She and her family lived in hiding, moving from house to house since the break in burglary of her residence,” the FMM said.
Her husband Romesh Abeywickrema, the editor of the business section in the English daily, and their 12-year-old daughter have also left the country, it said.
Ms. Abeywickrema has been critical of the government in her political commentary and was elected the first President of the Journalists’ Trade Union formed recently.
The Sunday Leader is considered a major critic of the present government and media activists have alleged that is the reason it has been targeted and that journalists have been forced to self-censor their work for fear of violent attacks.
The founding editor of the English daily, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was murdered when a gang attacked him in his car in January 2009.
“A large number of media workers including journalists have been killed, abducted, assaulted and media institutions have been set on fire since 2005, but no killing, abduction, assault or arson has been investigated and no perpetrator brought to justice,” the FMM said.
The watchdog said it was urging the government to end the “impunity which has become the shield for attacks against media and journalists in Sri Lanka and bring all perpetrators to justice”.
It reiterated its request that the government should invite the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression Rights to visit the country in order to obtain help to speed up these investigations.