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Silenced Voices

Journalists in Sri Lanka risk life and limb to practice their profession. Lasantha Wickrematunge was one of these champions. He was gunned down by eight men in broad daylight in the capital, Colombo. His newly wed and now widowed wife, Sonali Samarasinghe, had to arrange her bridegroom’s funeral only a few days after the wedding. Besides being editor-in-chief of the critical newspaper The Morning Leader, Wickrematunge was also a fierce opponent of the Sri Lankan government. As a lawyer and journalist, his wife worked closely with him; the government forced her to leave the country not long after his killing. Since that time, Samarasinghe has been fighting for justice from her base in New York. Sri Lanka is one of the most perilous countries in the world for journalists. According to official sources, nearly 25 journalists have been killed there since 1992, at least 10 of whom were deliberately targeted by suspected government or opposition Tamil Tiger forces. Director Beate Arnestad tells the story of the civil war in Sri Lanka based on the stories of journalists living in exile. She seeks out various reporters who risk their lives over and over to highlight the human rights violations taking place in their homeland.

Human Rights Watch has documented allegations of war crimes in Sri Lanka for more than two decades and has called for an independent international investigation into allegations of abuses by all sides. A report by United Nations experts found that up to 40,000 civilians were killed during the final months of the conflict in early 2009. While the rebel Tamil Tigers used the civilian population as human shields, forcibly recruiting adults and children and shooting anyone that tried to flee to safety, the military indiscriminately shelled civilian areas, including hospitals, with utter disregard for civilian lives. Sri Lankans who protested government actions or called for civilian protection were treated as traitors by the government. Civil society is traumatized into silence and the media is forced to self-censor. It is in this climate that a few brave people, such as those profiled in the film, continue to campaign for the truth.