Lasantha Wickrematunge’s killing has become part of a long list of attacks on the media that the state is yet to investigate seriously
It was exactly four years ago that Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered. The editor of The Sunday Leader, a Sri Lankan weekly that was fiercely critical of the Rajapaksa regime, was driving to work through the suburbs of Colombo when he was shot dead by an unidentified gunman.
Four years down the line, no one has been convicted for Lasantha’s murder. All the suspects have been set free. (Seventeen soldiers, including seven attached to an army intelligence unit, were arrested by the police on suspicion. But a court later released all of them). Another suspect, Pitchai Jesudasan, later died in custody.
His widow, Sonali Wickrematunge Samarasinghe, who lives in New York, has demanded an independent investigation “to bring back the rule of law rather than the rule of one family”, leaving no one in doubt about who she suspects to have been behind her high-profile husband’s killing. According to CPJ statistics, as many as 11 journalists have been killed since 2006.
The issue that agitates many media organisations, including the Free Media Movement (FMM), is that not one case has been investigated properly. The FMM has called on the government to investigate all recent killings of journalists, including the killing of Dharmeratnam “Tarakï” Sivaram, editor of news website TamilNet.
It also wants “proper investigations” into many other incidents against the media, specifically the firebomb attack on the Sirasa/MTV studios and the brutal attacks on Upali Tennakoon, the then editor of Sinhala weekly Rivira, and Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association secretary Poddala Jayantha, and the involuntary disappearance of cartoonist and journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda. These incidents demand “serious, honest and meaningful investigations,” the FMM has said.
‘No faith in state probe’
Prageeth’s wife has even petitioned the United Nations. Lasantha’s brother, Lal Wickrematunge, told the media at a memorial held at The Sunday Leader premises that he has no faith in the investigations conducted by the government.
Twitter has been abuzz with tributes and charges on Lasantha’s death anniversary. “Four years since Lasantha’s assassination, the culture of impunity reigns,” wrote @sunandadesh.
Placing the question of bringing Lasantha’s killers to justice in an ethnic context, another writer, @tamilsnaps tweeted: “Lasantha’s Killers Roam Free No accountability for Sinhalese and you expect Tamils will get justice?” @NalakaG raised an important question of legacy: “Lasantha Wickrematunge (5 April 1958 – 8 Jan 2009): Editor, murdered for his views 4 yrs ago. Still no justice. His legacy squandered.”
He was referring to the sale of The Sunday Leader, and the abrupt departure of its editor Frederica Jansz, in September last year.
Ms. Jansz had accused the new owner of the paper, Asanga Seneviratne, of asking her to stop carrying articles critical of President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers. She said she refused, and was sacked.
Later, she fled the country after a European country accepted her request for asylum.