Sri Lanka Sunday Leader's Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema flees

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Ms Abeywickrema is the latest journalist to fear for her life in Sri Lanka

A senior Sri Lankan journalist has left the country three weeks after she and her family were held at knifepoint during a night raid on her house.

Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, associate editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, led a trade union for journalists and had also received death threats.

She told the BBC she had left "for a few months" but would be back.

Her departure is a sign of a continuing "war against journalists", a media rights group says.

The former editor of her newspaper was shot dead four years ago and another ex-editor fled the country last year.

Ms Abeywickrema's lawyer said she had departed fearing for her security, taking her immediate family with her.

In the raid on 24 August four masked, armed men punched her in the face and threatened her, her 10-year-old daughter and both her parents with knives.

They stole goods but also spent hours rifling through documents.

Nevertheless the police and army swiftly described the incident as a burglary that was not aimed at stifling the media.

In the event the journalist's husband alerted the police, who shot one intruder dead and apprehended the others.

Charges have yet to be laid. Two of the gang were army deserters, the BBC's Charles Haviland reports from Colombo.

After the raid Ms Abeywickrema declared that journalists in Sri Lanka must not "give up" despite - she said - facing dangers if they exposed corruption.

Since then, however, her house has been raided for a second time and a computer stolen.

The leader of the opposition has alleged that she was targeted to stop her exposing details of a controversial construction deal.

Now she has left for an undisclosed country, Sri Lanka's Free Media Movement said the government should start bringing people to book after a string of attacks on journalists in recent years.

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