Ban urges Govt. to bring Lasanatha's killers to justice

UNITED NATIONS, Saturday (AFP) - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement Friday deploring the death, jailing and intimidation of journalists around the world ahead of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday.

"Attacks on journalists remain shockingly high in number," Ban wrote. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 41 journalists were killed in 2008 while on the job and 11 have been killed since the start of 2009. The UN cultural agency UNESCO posthumously awarded Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunga -- murdered in January -- the UNESCO 2009 press freedom prize for his work.

UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura will formally award the prize at a ceremony in Qatar on Sunday. Ban called on the government of Sri Lanka "to ensure that those responsible for (Wickrematunga's) murder are found and prosecuted."

The CPJ "also reports that as of 1 December 2008, 125 journalists were in prison. Some have been incarcerated for years and some for more than a decade.

"Three countries -- China, Cuba and Eritrea -- account for half of those cases," Ban said. "I urge all governments that have detained journalists to ensure that their rights are fully respected, including the right to appeal and defend themselves against charges," he added.

Fear often results in journalists censuring themselves. "This, too, is unacceptable, journalists must be able to do their job free of intimidation and harassment," Ban said.

In April a panel of 14 judges from around the world posthumously awarded Wickrematunga the UNESCO prize.

Wickrematunga, who was shot at close range by unknown gunmen as he drove to work in early January, was the editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper that was fiercely critical of government policy, especially its bloody and costly war against Tamil rebels.

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