Sonali Samarasinghe is an award-winning journalist, human rights activist, lawyer, and former diplomat. A native of Sri Lanka, Samarasinghe practiced law there for twenty years and worked as a journalist focusing on human rights, including government corruption and women’s issues.
Samarasinghe served as editor-in-chief of The Morning Leader, a national weekly, and as columnist for The Sunday Leader, a weekly openly critical of the government. In 2008, she married Lasantha Wickrematunge, founder and editor of The Sunday Leader. Wickrematunge was assassinated in 2009, and his assailants threatened Samarasinghe’s household and family. Samarasinghe left Sri Lanka to the United States, where she founded the website The Lanka Standard.
Samarasinghe has a Master’s degree in International Affairs from the Australian National University, a Law Degree from the University of London, and journalism diplomas from Aquinas College in Sri Lanka and the Australian School of Journalism in Sydney. Enrolled as an Attorney at Law of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka in 1992, she worked for several years as a counsel attached to the Corporations Division of Attorney General’s Department in Sri Lanka and as a Defense Counsel in the private bar.
She has been an Edward R. Murrow Fellow in the US, a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and an International Journalist in Residence at the Graduate School of Journalism, City University of New York. She was the fifth Writer in Residence of Ithaca City of Asylum and was one of 20 persecuted writers featured in Paris during the General Assembly of the International Cities of Refuge Network (ICORN) in 2016. Ms. Samarasinghe has been a lecturer at Ithaca College where she taught in the Legal, Honors and Communications Departments. She was also a visiting scholar at Cornell University.
Among Samarasinghe’s many international awards include the Hellmann Hammett Award for persecuted journalists (2012), the Images and Voices of Hope Award for Print and Digital Journalism in New York (2011), Pen International’s Oxfam Novib/PEN Award for Freedom of Expression (2009), the Global Shining Light Award for Investigative Journalism by the Global Investigative Journalism Conference in Norway (2008), and Zonta International’s Woman of Achievement (2006). She has also been a four-time recipient of the Journalist of the Year award in Sri Lanka.
From 2015 to 2019, Samarasinghe served as Minister in the Sri Lankan mission to the United Nations, where she handled legal, political, and media affairs. Also included in her extensive portfolio was oceans and law of the sea, counterterrorism, gender issues, peacekeeping, and human rights. She previously served as a press counsellor at the Sri Lanka High Commission in Canberra, Australia.