Sri Lankan editor flees after death threats

Sri Lankan editor flees after death threats and attack by armed gang

Associated Press

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) -- A Sri Lankan newspaper editor has fled the country following death threats and an attack in her home in which her family was held at knifepoint, a media rights group said Thursday.

Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, co-editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, fled Tuesday to a "North American country" with her journalist husband and their 12-year-old daughter, the Free Media Movement said.

More than 80 journalists have fled Sri Lanka since 2005. The government has been accused of failing to properly investigate a series of attacks on journalists who were viewed as critical of the administration of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

"No killing, abduction, assault or arson has been investigated and no perpetrator has been brought to justice," said Sunil Jayasekara, the Free Media Movement's convener.

Mandana is the "latest victim of the continuing war against journalists in Sri Lanka," he said.

On Aug. 24, five men held Mandana and her family at knifepoint and searched their Colombo home for several hours before police intervened. One intruder was fatally shot by police and the four others are in custody.

Jayasekara said some of Mandana's articles had angered the authorities. However, police say the incident was a robbery and not connected to her journalism work.

Jayasekara said Mandana had received several death threats after she said the gang was looking for documents and not valuables. "She and her family lived in hiding, moving from house to house, after the break-in at her residence," he said.

The Sunday Leader has been strongly critical of the government, and its outspoken editor, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was killed four years ago. However, its criticism has been less sharp since it was bought last year by a businessman close to the ruling party.

Mandana's husband, Romesh Abeywickrema, was editor of the newspaper's business section.

The human rights group Amnesty International says at least 15 journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006.

The government has said in the past that several journalists who were reportedly abducted or attacked by pro-government militia had actually hidden themselves to embarrass the government and claim asylum overseas.

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