Remembering Lasantha: Discussion on Press Freedom across Canadian and Lankan borders

T lasantha wickrramatunga 1 lasantha wickrramatunga 44Sonali and Lal pay homage

T oronto, Ontario – August 30, 2013 — Leading journalists from Canada and Sri Lanka will come together for a panel discussion to examine press freedom and related human rights issues in Sri Lanka as part of a special event commemorating the life and times of leading Sri Lankan journalist and human rights activist Lasantha Wickrematunge.   Lasantha Wickrematunge was an internationally renowned journalist and Editor of The Sunday Leader, a national English-language weekly in Sri Lanka, and a reporter for TIME magazine. Known for his critical coverage of successive Sri Lankan governments, Wickrematunge was a lawyer and politician before turning to journalism permanently. After many years of threats to him and his family, he was assassinated on January 8, 2009. In his final editorial written shortly before his death, which was published posthumously, Wickrematunge alleged, “when finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.” The Government of Sri Lanka has denied any involvement in the matter and the case remains unsolved. In 2010, the International Press Institute declared Wickrematunge a World Press Freedom Hero.  

Co-hosted by Sri Lankans Without Borders and the South Asian Journalists Association, and supported by the Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, Journalists for Human Rights and PEN Canada, the event will be held on Friday, September 21, 2013 from 12:00 – 5:00 PM in Room ENG 103, George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre, Ryerson University, 245 Church St., Toronto, Ontario M5B 1Z2.   The event will highlight the role of the media in Sri Lanka and specifically examine the nature of the relationship between government and media in that country. Featured speakers include:

  • Stewart Bell, Author and Senior Reporter, National Post
  • Sanjana Hattotuwa, TED Fellow and Editor,
  • Sonali Samarasinghe, Editor-in-Chief,
  • J.S. Tissainayagam, award winning journalist, The Sunday Leader and Sunday Times

lal  wickramatunga 2 Lal Wickramatunga  SANJANA on TV Sanjana Hattotuwa

STEWART BELL  Stewart Bell

The lectures will be followed by a panel discussion with the speakers, moderated by Meena Nallainathan of Social Innovation Generation (SiG).
This event is free but attendees must register at   For event press kit and more information, please contact:

Poornima Ranawana Sri Lankans Without Borders (647) 381-0885 @SLWBcanada Aparita Bhandari South Asian Journalists Association (416) 893-3482 @torontoSAJA

  Backgrounder   The South Asian Journalists Association (SAJA) is one of the most dynamic journalism organizations in the U.S. and Canada. Founded in March 1994, it now connects and serves more than 1,000 journalists at news outlets, big and small. SAJA serves as a networking and resource forum for journalists of South Asian origin as well as for journalists and others interested in South Asia and the South Asian diaspora. Its mission includes acting as a resource to promote accurate coverage of South Asia and the diaspora. For more information, visit   Sri Lankans Without Borders (SLWB) is a growing not-for-profit network based in Toronto that provides Canadians of Sri Lankan origin with opportunities to connect, build and lead initiatives that promote dialogue and cross-community engagement in the Sri Lankan Canadian diaspora We aim to contribute responsibly to a vibrant and supportive community locally and further the development of a democratic Sri Lanka based on principles of pluralism and equality. For more information, visit

Stewart Bell is an award-winning Canadian journalist and has reported from Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, Central Asia, Europe and the Balkans. His magazine article about child soldiers in West Africa, “Guerilla Girls” was awarded the Amnesty International prize. In 2009, Stewart won a South Asian Journalists Association Award for his writing about the civil war in Sri Lanka. Stewart is currently a senior reporter for the National Post newspaper.

Sanjana Hattotuwa is TED Fellow and Editor of, first established in 2006. Educated at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, Sanjana read English at the University of Delhi, and as a Rotary World Peace Fellow, was awarded an Advanced Masters in Conflict Resolution and International Relations from the University of Queensland, Brisbane with a Dean’s Commendation for High Achievement. He is currently a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Policy Alternatives and a frequent commentator on journalism and new media in domestic and international fora. In addition to hosting a talk show on public television, Sanjana taught at the Sri Lanka College of Journalism (SLCJ), engaging journalists from state, private, alternative media on how to use web, internet and mobile technologies to strengthen professional, independent and investigative journalism. He is currently a columnist at The Nation newspaper. In 2011, Sanjana received a TED Fellowship, two years after he was awarded a News & Knowledge Entrepreneur Fellowship from the Ashoka Foundation. Both awards recognise pioneering efforts to create and use web based civic media to bear witness and strengthen democracy, human rights and just peace.   Meena Nallainathan has reported on the politics of the Tamil community in Toronto, the effects of climate change on women’s health, media coverage of Darfur, and the cost of Canadian immigration. In 2009-10, Meena worked for the International Freedom of Expression Exchange, a network linked to Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, writing and editing a weekly newsletter that monitored free expression violations worldwide. She currently works for Social Innovation Generation (SiG) in Toronto, Canada.   Sonali Samarasinghe is an award winning investigative journalist, editor, and lawyer from Sri Lanka. She worked for more than two decades fighting for justice, freedom, and accountability in her country. Shortly after the assassination of her late husband Lasantha Wickrematunge, she was driven from her country by threats to her own life and moved to the United States, where she established the website Lanka Standard, dedicated to covering events and reporting the truth about Sri Lanka. In 2011 she was presented the Images and Voices of Hope (IVOH) Award in New York for her website. Among the many other honors, in 2008 the Global Investigative Journalist Conference (GIJC) awarded her the Global Shining Light Award for Investigative Journalism. In 2009, Pen International awarded her the Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression. She was a Nieman Fellow of Journalism at Harvard University USA (2009-2010) and an Edward R. Murrow Fellow in the US (2007). Samarasinghe is currently the Writer in Residence of the Ithaca City of Asylum and the Scholar in Residence at Ithaca College, where she teaches human rights litigation, media and public opinion. She is also a Visiting Scholar at Cornell University.

J.S. Tissainayagam is a Sri Lankan with 20 years of journalism experience under his belt. He worked for newspapers in Sri Lanka such as the Sunday Leader and the Sunday Times before founding the North Eastern Monthly, a monthly publication. In 2009, the High Court in Sri Lanka sentenced him to 20 years of rigourous imprisonment for “arousing communal feelings” by writing and publishing material that criticized the government’s treatment of Tamil civilians affected by the war. Following international outcry and criticism from many in May of 2010 the Sri Lankan government announced that Tissainayagam would be pardoned of his sentence. Among the numerous awards he won for upholding media freedom are: the CPJ Award for Press Freedom and the Foreign Journalist of the Year at the British Press Awards and is the first winner of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. He was Nieman Fellow in Journalism at Harvard, USA (2010-2011) and Weatherhead Fellow in International Affairs at Harvard (2011-2012). In 2012-13 he was a Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC.

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Filed under accountability, authoritarian regimes, democratic measures, governance, historical interpretation, law of armed conflict, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, nationalism, patriotism, politIcal discourse, power politics, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, slanted reportage, sri lankan society, world affairs

One response to “Remembering Lasantha: Discussion on Press Freedom across Canadian and Lankan borders

  1. padraigcolman

    I don’t believe Sanjana is currently a columnist at The Nation.

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