Doctors have successfully removed a bullet from the neck of an investigative journalist in Sri Lanka who was shot by unidentified gunmen who stormed into his home and fired at close range. The journalist works for the same publication whose former editor-in-chief was murdered four years ago in an attack his wife blamed on the government.
Faraz Shauketaly, who holds both British and Sri Lankan citizenship, was shot by three men who broke into his house in a Colombo suburb late on Friday evening. He was taken to Colombo National Hospital where he underwent surgery to remove the bullet this afternoon. A hospital employee said the 54-year-old remained in intensive care but was in a stable condition.
Mr Shauketaly was employed by the Sunday Leader newspaper, one of the few publications in Sri Lanka that prints articles critical of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In January 2009, its then editor-in-chief Lasantha Wickrematunga was murdered. Before his death he had penned an essay saying that if he was killed the government would have been responsible. His killers have still not been traced.
According to the Sunday Leader’s current editor, Shakuntala Perera, Mr Shauketaly, had been in his bedroom in his home in the Mt Lavinia neighbourhood, speaking with a sub-editor who was working with him on a story, when the attackers broke in.
“He was talking with the sub-editor. She realised the phone had been switched off and she wanted to know what had happened,” Ms Perera told The Independent.
“We rang on another phone but there was no answer. After ten minutes someone picked up the phone and told us he had been shot.”
Ms Perera said the paper had received no threats ahead of the attack. But she said two weeks ago, a group of four unidentified men had gone to Mr Shauketaly’s home and spoke to the journalists’s domestic help to confirm that it was his residence.
Mr Shauketaly is known for his investigative articles on a variety of topics. Ms Perera said that in recent weeks he had been working on a series of articles that focussed on corruption both within “the private and government sectors”.
One of the issues he had been looking into were developments in the Golden Key Credit Card Company affair, a twisting tale relating to a private company that collapsed with losses of $230m, leaving thousands of angry depositors. Those people are still trying to get their money back.
Sri Lanka is one of the most perilous places for journalists. Since 2006, at least 14 journalists or media workers have been killed, according to figures compiled by Amnesty International. Many more have fled overseas. Many of those still working in Sri Lanka privately admit they are obliged to operate with a level of self-censorship.
A spokesman for President Rajapaksa, Mohan Samaranayake, told the AFP that the president had ordered the police to carry out a thorough investigation into the attack.
It is understood that Mr Shauketaly had recently returned to Sri Lanka from Britain, where his wife and children live. An official at the British High Commission in Colombo said: “We are aware of, and concerned about, the shooting of Mr Shauketaly, a journalist and British national. He will be visited by a member of the consular staff today and given further assistance as required. At this time, our thoughts are with Mr Shauketaly and his family.”
The Sunday Leader has a history of being critical of the government. Yet some observers claim that since last summer, when it was partly sold to a businessman considered close to the party of Mr Rajapaksa, it has been less outspoken. Ms Perera has denied that it has lost its independence, telling the BBC last year: “It’s not just any other paper, it’s really something people believe in and that needs to carry on.”
The paper’s former editor-in-chief, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was shot dead by two men on motorbikes in January 2009. In the preceding weeks, the paper had been increasingly critical of the government’s military operation against Tamil rebels, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), who had launched a bloody, decades-long insurgency against the state.
The government operation ultimately crushed the LTTE in the spring of 2009 but a team of UN investigators concluded that up to 40,000 Tamil civilians may have been killed as well. This week, the Sri Lankan military’s own panel of inquiry announced it had concluded the country’s armed forces did not shell civilians.
Mr Wickrematunga had often clashed with the government. In a now-celebrated essay he had written in the weeks before his death and which was subsequently published posthumously by the Sunday Leader, he pointed the finger of blame at the government. His wife also accused the government for the killing. The government has always denied the accusation.
In his essay, Mr Wickrematunga wrote: “No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism.”