Murdered Sri Lankan journalist is awarded UNESCO press freedom prize

Murdered Sri Lankan journalist is awarded UNESCO press freedom prize Paris - The murdered Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge has been named recipient of the 2009 UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize, the United Nations' educational and cultural organization said Monday.

"Jury members were moved to an almost unanimous choice by a man who was clearly conscious of the dangers he faced but nevertheless chose to speak out, even beyond his grave," said Joe Thloloe, president of the 14-member jury.

Thloloe was referring to an editorial Wickrematunge had written to be published after his assassination, which he expected.

The editorial appeared in the Sunday Leader, the newspaper Wickrematunge founded in 1994, three days after he was murdered, on January 8.

In it, he declared his commitment to freedom of the press and his readiness to die for the principle.

"There is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience," he wrote.

Wickrematunge was shot dead in broad daylight by a group of black- clad men on motorcycles as he was driving along a motorway. No arrests have been made in his killing.

Wickrematunge used the Sunday Leader as a platform for his campaign against the war between Sri Lanka's army and the Tamil rebels.

In 2000, he won an important judicial victory that led to the abolition of a law that had enabled the government to control the media.

In November 2007, the offices of the Sunday Leader were damaged in an arson attack that Wickrematunge said resembled a "commando action."

The prize will be awarded on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, by UNESCO head Koichiro Matsuura. (dpa)