Asia

Sri Lanka editor flees after armed attack

In this photograph taken on August 24, 2013, Sri Lankan editor Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema speaks with colleagues in Colombo. Abeywickrema has fled the country following death threats and an armed attack on her home in Colombo, according to a media rights group.

In this photograph taken on August 24, 2013, Sri Lankan editor Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema speaks with colleagues in Colombo. Abeywickrema has fled the country following death threats and an armed attack on her home in Colombo, according to a media rights group.  (AFP/File)

An editor critical of Sri Lanka's government has fled the country following death threats and an armed attack on her home which she suspected was intended to find documents, a media rights groups said Wednesday.

The Free Media Movement (FMM) said Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema left for an undisclosed country Tuesday, joining some 80 journalists who have sought refuge abroad since President Mahinda Rajapakse came to power in 2005.

Five men held the associate editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper at knifepoint and searched her Colombo home in a pre-dawn raid on August 24.

The military admitted that two of the five men involved were soldiers who had deserted the army, but denied that security forces were behind the crime.

Police, who shot one of the intruders dead, insisted it was a straight-forward robbery unrelated to her work at the newspaper.

"She had received several death threats after she raised suspicions that the gang was not looking for valuables, but for some documents," the FMM said in a statement.

"She and her family lived in hiding, moving from house to house since the break in burglary of her residence."

The founding editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, was shot dead near the group's office in January 2009. The assassination remains unsolved.

Abeywickrema has been critical of the government in her political commentary and recently set up a trade union for journalists.

The intruders were suspected by her to be looking for the documents related to a multi-million-dollar state land sale she was investigating.

Two weeks later another break-in saw a computer stolen from her home which was unoccupied at the time, the FMM said.

The FMM called on 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".

Abeywickrema's investigative newspaper was considered anti-government until last year, when it was bought by a businessman who is widely seen to favour the administration.

In September last year, the newspaper's new owner dismissed the editor, Frederica Jansz, who said she was fired after resisting demands to water down criticism of the president. She has since fled to the US following death threats.

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