Faraz Shaukatally is an investigative journalist with a Colombo newspaper
Police have yet to establish a motive
The reporter survived and had surgery to remove the bullet
Journalists in Sri Lanka face heavy intimidation
A few days ago, strangers appeared at the door of a Sri Lankan investigative journalist when he wasn’t home, asking questions about him.
Just before midnight Friday, three men stormed Faraz Shaukatally’s house as he slept, police said. One of them shot him.
Shaukatally survived the attack, which left him with a bullet lodged under the neck and questions about who may have wanted him dead.
Journalists face heavy intimidation in Sri Lanka, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which has called the island nation a “highly restrictive and dangerous nation for the press.”
Police have not apprehended suspects in Shaukatally’s case or established a motive, but the editor of his paper thinks he was shot over his critical articles.
“He has been writing a number of investigative stories in the past weeks,” said Shakuntala Perera, who heads the Sunday Leader in the capital of Colombo. “Our journalists have been under constant threat.”
British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt expressed shock and concern at the shooting. Shaukatally holds dual Sri Lankan and British citizenship, CNN affiliate ITN reported, and Burt said consular officials visited him in the hospital, where he had surgery Saturday to remove the bullet.
“It remains unclear whether this horrific incident was connected to the victim’s work as a journalist. The Sri Lankan authorities must quickly identify who committed this crime and bring them to justice,” Burt said in a statement.
Though the last journalist killings in Sri Lanka were four years ago, 25 members of the press have been murdered in the country since 1999, according to the CPJ.
Nine of the murders in the past decade remain unsolved. More than 63% of journalists killed in the country covered politics as a part of their work.
In the past five years, 20 journalists have fled the country amid “a climate of intense intimidation,” the CPJ says.
Last year, citing national security, the government blocked a freedom of information bill, further denying journalists and citizens access to documents.
Perera’s predecessor, Frederica Jansz, went into exile after a businessman with close government ties bought the paper last year.
In recent weeks, the Leader ran articles critical of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Perera admitted that she does not know whether Shaukatally was attacked specifically for any of his work.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Navi Pillay, said Sri Lankan authorities should immediately give Shaukatally protection. She called the shooting an assassination attempt.
In an interview with Britain’s Channel 4 News, Pillay said she will report to the Human Rights Council her concerns over “extrajudicial killings, abductions, and this kind of treatment and suppression of freedom of expression.”
Journalist Iqbal Athas reported from Colombo. CNN’s Ben Brumfield reported from Atlanta.