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Late Sri Lankan Journalist Wins World Press Freedom Prize


Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge has been posthumously awarded the World Press Freedom Prize. At conference in the Gulf state, Qatar, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization emphasized the need for journalists to be able to work in an environment free of intimidation.

Natali Samarasinghe accepted the World Press Freedom award on behalf of her uncle, Lasantha Wickrematunge. The Sri Lankan journalist was an open critic of government military action. He was assassinated in January.

He knew his work put him at risk and went so far as to write an editorial to be published if he was murdered. In it, he said it was his conscience would not let him stop working. In accepting the award, his niece read a note from his widow, who was unable to attend.

"By recognizing his life and his work as you have done today, you send an important message to tyrants everywhere that killing the messenger is not the solution," she said. "The human spirit cannot be subdued by violence, not even by murder and so it is even in death Lasantha's name draws more hits on Google than the prime minister of Sri Lanka."

Hajar Smouni is with the Doha Center for Media Freedom. She says she hopes award will help improve reporting in Sri Lanka.

"It is important to recognize these local heroes, because he was a hero in his own manner," she said. "It is important for his family, for his colleagues but also freedom of the press in Sri Lanka."

The UNESCO World Press Freedom conference was held in Qatar, the first time in an Arab country. The event discussed the dangers journalists face in their field. According to UNESCO, more than a thousand journalists were killed in the line of duty, in the past decade. And, 95 percent of the crimes against journalists are not resolved. Tunisian journalist Sihem Bensedrin says she, has been beaten, tortured and imprisoned, but says violence is not the greatest threat to reporters.

She says the greatest danger for journalists is not being able to work. She says to be informed is as important as eating -- fundamental right that she says she will defend with her life.

She says killing journalists is the worst form of censorship and she hopes the UNESCO Press Freedom prize will not only highlight the murder of Wickrematunge but also promote a culture of protection for the media.

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