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Review

 


A deadly drive to work

 

At around 8 am on the morning of January 8 Lasantha Wickrematunge was at his residence in Nugegoda when he was to get a call from his wife Sonali Samarasinghe asking him to come to their home in Battaramulla as the domestic assistant there had taken ill.

He had arrived at their Battaramulla home at about 8.20. It was even as he alighted from his car that he was to receive a call from the Sunday Leader office that some people had observed suspicious activity and that he was being followed.

His driver who was at Nugegoda had been warned by one of his friends - a three wheeler driver, that two persons on a motor bike pared at a nearby boutique had acted suspiciously and no sooner than Lasantha had taken off in his car one had been heard to say to the other , Eya pittath wuna (he has left now). At which point one of the two who was smoking had butted out his cigarette and they had been seen following Lasantha's car.

The driver had immediately gone to The Sunday Leader office in Ratmalana but finding that Lasantha had not arrived yet he was to quickly go into the office and call Lasantha on his mobile phone. Lasantha was in Battaramulla at the time. The driver's mobile phone was in Lasantha's car.

Followed

Lasantha and Sonali left for a nearby pharmaceutical shop to buy medicines for the servant. Even on their way, Sonali had noticed a motorbike following the car. She however lost sight of it, as a three wheeler had intercepted.

However, once they neared their house, a large black motorbike with two persons had whizzed past the car and had gone into the land next to the house which is a dead end in a suspicious and intimidating way.

Alerted Sonali had first alighted from the car and immediately pulled Lasantha into their house locking the doors. However after some time Lasantha was determined to go to office to commence writing his column and also to  take steps against this new threat. Since Sonali had to still see to some domestic matters he said he would go on ahead and that his wife should come in her car. He also said he wanted to investigate the whole motorbike incident and make some calls on the matter.

Wickrematunge, on his way to the office had asked his driver to meet him in Nugegoda. He handed over to him some documents and then proceeded towards office.

Deadly journey

It would turn out to be the deadliest ride to work he would ever take.

His wife meanwhile not 15 minutes after they parted was to hear the dreaded news and quickly rush to the Kalubowila Hospital. The driver too, received the news through an employee at the Leader office.

One of the people, who witnessed the attack on The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge and volunteered to take him to the Kalubowila Hospital said that he was checking a stock of printing goods prepared for delivery that day when the incident happened.

He (name withheld on request) said he came out of his office on Attidiya Road, upon seeing a lot of activity on the road.

Black bikes

"I saw some motorbikes speeding off and people started to move towards a car that was parked on the other side of the road. I too walked towards the car and saw that the window on one side was smashed with damage to the main windscreen as well," he said.

He had then peered into the vehicle and found a person lying across the two front seats.

"I saw that he was finding it difficult to breathe. Then I called on some of the people standing around to carry him to a van that was there. We carried him into the van. He was bleeding heavily from the head," he said.

The eyewitness said that while Wickrematunge was being taken to hospital, his mobile phone, which he had been holding on to firmly, had started to ring.

Phone call

"The phone rang. Since I was holding the injured person with another, the person on the front passenger seat answered the phone and told the caller that if he knew the owner of the phone, to come to the Kalubowila Hospital immediately," he said.

Amidst all the chaos, it was not till the van reached the hospital that they all realised that the injured man in the vehicle was none other than Lasantha Wickrematunge.

"We have always admired him as a fearless man who stood for the rights of the people. We were all sad to find out that it was this man who was shot," the eyewitness said.

Nadhan, driver of the van that took Wickrematunge to the hospital said that he was on his way to Avissawella for a delivery when the van was held up in a traffic jam in Attidiya.

"We saw people surrounding a car, but they looked afraid to go near. They may have been afraid to get close as it was a shooting incident," he said.

Nadhan said that while most people looked on, vehicles passed by without even stopping to have a second look.

Rushed to hospital

"We stopped to look and when we heard there was an injured person , we allowed the people to carry him to our van. Along with two other people and my sales manager, we drove straight to the Kalubowila Hospital," he said.

Like the other eyewitnesses, Nadhan also recognised the victim only upon reaching the hospital.

"When Wickrematunge's phone rang in the vehicle, we informed the caller of the incident."

One of the others who saw the incident as Wickrematunge was being taken into the van was Lakmal Nanayakkara, who works at Irudina, The Sunday Leader's sister paper. "I was in the bus getting ready to get off when the bus all of sudden got stuck  in traffic," he said.

"First I thought it was an accident, then we realised that something else would have happened  when we saw a man dressed in dark trouser was taken into a van, injured. I saw his head move inside the car when the people opened the door. I saw the vehicle and called office and asked Mr. Mohan (Lal Piyadasa, editor of the Irudina) whether Mr. Lasantha was in office, whether his car was there. He said no. Then I told him that there was a shooting and Mr. Lasantha was being taken to hospital. I got off the bus and tried to get in the van that was taking him but I could not."

Efforts failed

Director, Colombo South Teaching (Kalubowila) Hospital, Dr. Anil Jasinghe said that all efforts made by the medical staff at the hospital and the other specialists brought into help Wickrematunge were not fruitful due to the severe injuries sustained by the victim to his head.

After three hours of extensive surgery, Lasantha succumbed to his injuries at around 2.30 p.m. last Thursday (8).

Meanwhile, Police Media Spokesperson, SSP Ranjith Gunasekera told The Sunday Leader that the IGP had assigned four teams to investigate into Wickrematunge's assassination.

He added that the teams have found some clues that would lead to the suspects. However, he said that he had not yet been given a detailed report, as the investigating teams did not want details to be revealed since it would hamper the progress of the investigation.

He said that SSP Mt Lavinia Police was heading the four teams.


Our Great Leader bids good bye

'Wifey, I love you'

By Sonali Samarasinghe

It is not immediately apparent that Lasantha is a romantic. He is also incredibly shy for a person so much in the lime light. He would often squirm uncomfortably as scores of people would walk up to him at restaurants, malls, on the street, and admire his life work.

Perhaps in life there is no greater gift than marrying your best friend. And today as I look upon his lifeless frame I feel blessed for that. Little was I to know when we carefully eliminated beef from the modest menu to be served at a small reception for a few relatives and friends that two months to the day my best friend would lay murdered in a pool of blood.

'The trouble with us,' he would often say, 'is that we are both strong personalities.' True. We clashed over everything. He said tomayto I said Tomaato. But in many ways we were much alike. He was the youngest of an amazingly united family of six. Ditto for me. He was left handed. Ditto again. He was a lawyer. Likewise. We both had a passion for writing. We loved kids. We adored animals and yes, we were both bleeding hearts.

And yet, we would sometimes have intense disagreements on a story line, a policy issue at first glance. Ergo the Editor of The Sunday Leader and the Editor of The Morning Leader would have to thrash an issue out in our office and we came to an understanding every time. We always did, but not before some heated words. It was a stimulating journey. Never boring, never predictable.

Lasantha was also an honourable man. Work was work, personal relationship was quite something else. And never the twain did meet. At work we were˙ neither best friends nor husband and wife. It was this sense of fair play and honour that was to endear him to his staff.

It was this sense of fair play and justice that he would bring to his newspaper and his work.

"Never," a friend told me, "had I seen Lasantha happier than I did at your reception." That was 13 days before he was brutally gunned down. Yes. Come to think of it, I think he may have been. On 31st evening he loudly sang a lengthy medley of songs in a mix of Sinhala and English, some of it quite flat, in the bathroom.

I giggled uncontrollably outside as he warbled on in tremulous tones and quietly reaching for the room phone dialed our best and darling friends Ajita and Khema De Costa to share the moment with them. "He must be happy," whispered Ajita.

It was Ajita and Khema to whom he and I would turn when we were most stressed. It was to their home we would go to relax. To talk of higher things and contemplate on Keats and Byron.

After wedlock it was Ajita who read us a verse from Kalil Gibran on marriage.

"You are a strong woman, don't give up," he would always encourage me when work would sometimes take its toll. Somehow, I don't want to be strong today. I want to think of how kind and gentle he was. How funny and mischievous. How incredibly joyous he could be. Those mushy things he pretended he had no time for.

On January 8, 2009 he and I knew we were being followed. We attended to some other work in the morning he then dropped me home advising me to come to office in my own car as we still had to attend to some domestic matters as he wanted to address the grave situation and also get to office quickly to start on his Suranimala column. I begged him not to go as we had already been alerted about the thugs but to at least allow me to come with him. But he was adamant and determined. Later I got to know he called many people along the way to inform them he was being followed.

It wasn't 10 minutes after we parted that I got the call I had always dreaded. My fingers hurriedly slid over my phone digits as I hastened to call him, more in hope than anything else. In my haste I pressed a wrong button. On the screen appeared a message I had received from Lasantha just hours before.

"Wifey," it said, "I love you."


Farewell my Chief

By Romesh Abeywickrema

We journalists sometimes have to do the most unpleasant of things. While we are chocking with emotion and in no fit and proper state to write with a thousand thoughts flooding the mind, yet we must, for deadlines are deadlines and Lasantha was the first, week after week to remind us of that.

Its close upon 13 years now that I have constantly heard him call out, 'copies copies.how's the story. pages pages!' and as I sit today staring at the door to his empty office, knowing that no more will that cheery baby face be peeking out from it shouting something or the other, no more guidance on how to get about things, no more constant jokes, no more his copyrighted brand of humour, no more the pat on the back when the going gets tough.that I slowly realise that life as I know it is never going to be the same again.

Having worked by his side all these years, everything I know about this delicate art is what I had the great privilege of learning from him. He was not one to spoon feed, you had to learn on the go, and there was no question of falling back, no question of offering excuses, what had to be done had to be done.

He set the benchmark not only for us at the Leader, but for journalism itself in this country. He took it to a higher place, a place that no journalist had dared to go in this country. Those high standards it is now our responsibility to maintain.

Lasantha  was a great believer in people. He would thrust great responsibility on us and would not for a moment doubt our ability to deliver. We, and I mean every one of us in The Sunday Leader, The Morning Leader and Irudina editorial offices went out of our way to see that what was delivered was indeed more than what was expected. Such was the esteem the Chief was held in.

Lasantha was probably the greatest motivator I have ever come across. There was nothing in this world or in any other that could put the man down, which probably is what eventually led to his tragic end, for when he had known he was being followed that dark morning, yet he chose to come to work in the place he fathered and so carefully nurtured through thick and thin.

Heaven knows he went through hell to bring out that Sunday read week after week, year after year. Many have been the attacks both on him and the establishment, but when most other human beings would have packed up and run for dear life, not Lasantha Wickrematunge - fighter to the bone. He didn't fight or take on the powers that be to be popular or to play to the gallery as it often is the case, Lasantha fought for what was right and nothing could compromise that. He probably lost many a friend and much advertising revenue over the years for taking that stance but in the end all that mattered to him was the cause that he stood for - that the truth be told - friend or foe.

As his body was brought to The Leader Publications office last Friday morning, there was not a dry eye among the hundreds of ever grateful co-workers who had gathered from early morning to salute their hero on his final journey. It was a sight that spoke a million words, yet there was pin drop silence except the constant sobbing.

Much could be said about our beloved true hero - not the cardboard kind that rules this country, but deadlines are deadlines. Lasantha will live on at the Leader. Farewell my Chief.


He had the thirst to reveal the truth

By Minal Wickrematunge

'My Turkeys' he would yell, much to the embarrassment of my sister and I. This was my uncle, a fun loving, happy-go-lucky guy sometimes even bordering on eccentricity.  I have too many memories of the crazy antics this little man would get up to.

For as long as I can remember my uncle Lasantha was the clown of the family, always ready to fool around and up for a good laugh. Many a time he would call up my mother on April Fools Day with a ridiculous story. My mother of course was finally sensible enough to expect this annual˙call and I'm pretty sure she looked forward to it as well.

My phone would ring... "Hello there Minal! this is (a certain boy's name, miraculously he would always get the right name much to my dismay), I would like to take you for a candle lit dinner tonight. Are you interested?" This would leave me in fits of giggles.

Raisa and I would constantly make fun of his sense of style, often commenting that his full denim get up, resembled that of a carpenter of some sort! To this he would yell 'NO! I am a COOL COWBOY!' I remember how he would come for family dinners and sneak into the kitchen to have 'starters.' He was also the first to dart to the food and start serving, constantly complaining that 'You always serve dinner so late men.'

Uncle Lasantha was a determined man, he would get what ever he wanted and knew precisely when and where to turn on his charm and charisma. Often referring to himself as my BROTHER, he even left an impact on waiters in a restaurant in Singapore, that he would take my sister and I to whenever he was in the country.

I recently went back to this restaurant and they asked me where my uncle was. I am not shocked at all that they would remember him, as he was a bundle of joy that could make anyone happy.

I'd often complain that his sole purpose in life was to make my life miserable with his mischievous ways. He was ever ready to burst into dance and song, often in the middle of a hotel lobby. Pirouetting around making an absolute fool of himself, he'd claim that he was a better dancer than me! Whenever he was bored he would decide to do 'background checks' on any boy involved with Raisa and myself.

On many occasions he actually called up relatives of these boys (as he inevitably knew someone connected to the boy) and ask for a detailed analysis! This would leave my sister and I absolutely MORTIFIED. Yet I know that he did it because he cared.

Yes, my uncle was an investigative journalist at heart. He was driven with the thirst to reveal the truth and did it with utter bravery. I now write this engulfed with grief and shock. It is unfair that someone could take the life of a man so great and with such a big heart, leaving brothers, sisters, parents, nieces, nephews, a wife and three children in misery. I am half expecting to wake up and find this whole saga to be a terrible, terrible nightmare. Despite this, I know I have to come to terms with reality, albeit with intense pain. Being away from home and away from my family is very hard. Yet I have been told to remain strong. It is what uncle Lasantha would have wanted from me.

I write this now as a tribute to a great man. I do not want him to be remembered as Lasantha Wickrematunge, victim to a horrendous shooting, but Uncle Lasantha, one of Sri Lanka's best investigative journalists and most importantly, for the fun loving man he was. He˙will forever hold a special place in my heart and it is with utmost pride that I will remember him and all the success he has achieved. His determined nature at meticulously discovering facts will now motivate me too. One day I hope to be half as good a journalist as he˙was and do him proud.

I will miss you always Uncle Lasantha. I love you.


You gave me courage and confidence

By Nirmala Kannangara

The brutal assassination of my dearly beloved boss and colleague left me in an untold sea of sorrow and I'm yet to come out of the shock I received on hearing of the attempt on your life.

Rekindling memories of my very first meeting with you, my mind races back four years, to the day that I first walked into The Sunday Leader editorial at Ward Place. Although I was nervous before this most knowledgeable and gifted journalist in the world, you were able to make me comfortable within a few minutes.

My dear Lasantha, there are no words to thank you for giving me an opportunity to become a journalist working for your  esteemed journal The Sunday Leader  although I did not have any journalistic experience or for that matter any work experience anywhere.

Every single word uttered during my job interview still reverberates in my mind. When you asked me about the  salary I  expected, and hearing that I only needed to be occupied even without any remuneration since I was battling hard to overcome the loss of my dearly beloved mother, you offered me the job instantly. It is not that you neglected to pay me a decent salary.

Lasantha, I trust I have not let you down in whatever task I was assigned and never failed to accomplish any tough assignment that you entrusted to me. Although my first mission was to protect the dignity of my late parents, I always made sure that your dignity and that of the paper too was well safeguarded and will continue to do so in your absence as well.

Your sudden demise was a great blow to me personally and life at the Leader editorial will never be the same again. I will  miss your perpetual smile, the loving and caring words and the usual welcome words'Good Morning Nirmala,' every morning which gave me  courage to face the day's task with confidence.

Although your assailants and those who were behind this cowardly act wanted to stop you from exposing their corruption we at The Sunday Leader pledge to continue your mission by exposing corruption and standing firm to uphold what is right whatever the consequences may be. 

My dear Sir, although your voice has been stilled and you lie in a coffin devoid of your customary warm smile, I pledge I would not leave Leader publications for any reason till I go on retirement, to show my gratitude to you even after your death.

Good bye Lasantha, and May Your Soul Rest in Peace.


Farewell dear friend

By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

We have a young colleague who referred to Lasantha (with undiluted veneration) as God. I used to object to that often reiterating that he was not God, but a God like man. I am sorry Ruan, you were right and I was wrong.

What enrages me today is how some paid goons and their political and military masters have played God with Lasantha's precious life and denied all of us his guidance and warmth. And now I like to think of him as some God, still watching over us, as we drench this newspaper edition with our tears.

I have known Lasantha for long, but I remember running into him as he was preparing to undertake the greatest challenge of his life - to launch a newspaper.

He was scouting for young reporters to join The Sunday Leader in 1994 and with his  characteristic smile, he inquired about a young colleague of mine and asked me whether we both would like to come for an interview. The other did and I somehow did not have the heart to leave my first job.

Almost eight years later, I found my way to The Sunday Leader. He instantly employed me and immediately released me - to Johannesburg, with letters of recommendation from him.

Dynamic and charismatic, Lasantha brought in an energy into our editorial and created a spirited team that remains committed to the same ideals - pluralism, parity, a corrupt free society that is founded on good governance.

That he relentlessly pursued these ideals, and this time to the point of personal destruction might make him appear na‹ve to some. But instead, we all accepted what he had was incomparable zeal and commitment, and a desire to make Sri Lanka an inclusive place. He was the unrepentant idealist.

To achieve those higher ideals, he also created a brand of journalism that was not institutionally practiced- investigative journalism.  Then he nurtured us and enabled us to carry it forward.

From examination blues to loss of a parent, to journalism awards to paying for wrong decisions made, I found strength to carry through as Lasantha stood by me. And his mirth was the antidote when in tears, as his smile was the reward for a job well done.

What some may not know is that he made us feel sheltered, loved, and looked after. At The Sunday Leader, he was the binding force, the silken rope, our very roof. And that's what the assassins managed to blow away.

His respect for others was so complete that never did he change a comma in a copy without discussing it with even the junior most reporter. After 15 years in journalism at three media institutions, I am qualified to say that it does not happen elsewhere. Only here.

His respect for individuality was such that he and I had shared opposite pages writing on the same issue but expressing divergent views. That's one of the reasons why Lasantha was a phenomenal editor. He extended the highest courtesy to all journalists.

Like a doting father, he also helped us grow. As much as we were a team, he allowed us to spread wings and exulted as we found our own identities.

Lasantha courted controversy and often chose to stand alone. His brand of journalism, fiery and path making, brought him both friend and foe. That's a risk he took with his characteristic smile.   

On the day MBC/MTV stations were attacked, he appeared on television making strong statements of condemnation. And he professed attacks would not cease fast. Perturbed that some assassin would wish to snuff his life out for such strong views, I sent a text message: "You were shown on TV too many times. Please be safe." The answer was a grinning Smiley and the words: "You worry too much. I am fine."

But 48 hours later, I had the misfortune of seeing a blood soaked Lasantha struggling for life on a hospital emergency bed. Seeing that I lost courage, but my heart refused to accept that Lasantha would give up so soon. Or that his injuries were so fatal.

With Lasantha, journalism was a way of life. This editorial was energised by his spirit as much as by the loving bonds he created.

The Lasantha I knew wrote scathing pieces on powerful but corrupt and abusive people. But one thing stood out-for all that impassioned writing, he never really hurt even a fly.

In this land where angels are shot with impunity and flowers are crushed by venomous jackboots who refuse to allow dissent, Lasantha stood like a beacon of light.

His tragic end is proof that the price one pays for wielding a pen is to receive a bullet run through one's head. It may have silenced him physically, but his mission cannot be defeated.

Farewell dear friend, our brightest light. Though we won't see that smile, that quick gait, there is a corner within all our hearts which is forever yours.


The Lasantha I knew

Devika Karunaratne

I was at The Sunday Leader during 1996-1998. I had ventured into the field of journalism to learn of it and was a reporter on business and economic matters.

I never really had face to face or one to one dealings with Lasantha, probably because I was writing on business and economics and Lasantha was a stalwart in political matters. The other gap of Editor-Reporter also existed. Of course he would tell us in lighter vain anecdotes and incidence that made us laugh and it has passed us by.

During that short period Lasantha taught me what it was to be brave. At that time, to me he seemed almost a fearless person. I am now convinced he was. Often times when I was afraid of writing on the negative side of the economy he would ask me to write anyway. So, I wrote anyway.

I doubt if he was a person who indulged in deriving pleasure in de-humanising defamations of other's characters. To me he was person who spoke (wrote) on behalf of those persons who did not have the courage or the ability to write the injustice, the criminality of the behaviour of others. He wrote for justice, to bring about a balance in the system of power-play. He stood out for that.

I wrote about this spirit of his sometime ago in a The Sunday Leader Supplement, although not as elaborately as I have done now. I am glad that I did then and with renewed courage I write of it again. The courage of spirit of Lasantha that rubbed against me at that time will remain with me for ever. I am glad that I met him in my life journey, even though only for a brief moment.


My brother Lasantha

By Lal Wickrematunge

I loved him more than most would ever know. This sentence perhaps would be sufficient if repeated over and over to fill the space allotted to me.

Lasantha perhaps was the only journalist who to the point of foolishness flew close to the winds in search of creating a perfect society. Our civil society is hurtling down at an alarming speed and we don't want to accept, let alone take corrective action. At times, he made the rules, on his journey. Yet, never to physically harm anyone but to take short cuts to get to his destination quicker. This time around, he knew he would be cut down mid stride.....he told me so. He said, it would be a smiling assassin, duplicitous and ruthless garbed in white, silken linen. He was partially wrong. The wrapping was black though the core was as Lasantha said.... white silken linen. We all know that.

It was a roller coaster ride with Lasantha at the Leader. He set new standards and his own style which got under many a skin. He believed that once one accepts public office he/she, was open to criticism in equal measure to that of self-glorification. He was right. He paid the price. We all did.

Lasantha would expect us at the Leader to complete the journey he undertook. We promise to do so. If not he would have laid down his life in vain. His˙assassination would remain unsolved. The perpetrators would draw a red herring and also defend themselves. They will fool the people at large for a while till the bell tolls for them too. We as a nation have embarked down a slippery slope of no return. Lasantha laid down his life to reverse it. He has done his part. Its now up to you. Yes, all of you.

I loved my brother more than most would know................

Those who carried out this attack know what they did. Those who gave the orders and sanctioned the operation riding on recent highs, know it too. Lasantha is now beyond our realm somewhere watching over us.....and them. They all pay the price....in this life. History has proven this, even though it would remain as an unsolved crime.


"Anything if you say"

By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

Lasantha meant so much to me. He was my second father and The Leader was my second home.

When I first walked into the office in  October 1998, just a month after my A/Ls, I was unaware of what I was getting myself into. Walking into Lasantha's office in an old pair of jeans and a T-shirt, hopeful that he would not be interested in employing me, I was in for a shock when he asked me to start work from the following day.

The doyen of courageous investigative journalism a brand hitherto experienced in small measures - he dedicated an entire newspaper to that.

From then on, it has been a hell of a ride, filled with excitement, terror and togetherness. It was Lasantha who made me into the journalist that I am today. It was he who pushed me to achieve things that I thought were impossible.

Whenever hope was lost and I was ready to give up, his words of encouragement and warm smile gave me the strength to believe that anything was achievable.

It was just last Friday (2), when I was exhausted after typing over 8,000 words for the Sunday newspaper that he told me with his trademark smile, "See, if you put your mind to it, anything is possible." I laughed and said, "Anything if you say."

As a treat for the hard work, he promised a chocolate on Monday. On Monday, he said that he remembered his promise and gave the cash to a peon to get anything I wanted. As a result, the whole editorial feasted on patties and chocolate cake from Fab. Lasantha ate with us, as always.

On Thursday morning, my worst nightmare came true. I was on my way back to office from an assignment, but there was a traffic block on Attidiya Road. Upon asking the people in the area, they said there was a shootout.

I ran towards the junction and saw Lasantha's car, with blood and glass everywhere. I started screaming, asking the people where he was. They showed me a van speeding off, saying he was being taken to the Kalubowila Hospital.

We soon managed to get to the hospital and from then on, we gathered around and waited, hoping beyond hope for some good news.

But 2.30 p.m. January 8, 2009, will always remain a day I will never forget - the day I was told that my second father had left us all, forever. But he will always live in my heart.say"second home


An exceptional editor

By Paneetha Ameresekere

Lasantha Wickrematunge was an editor who worked hard and expected his journalists also to work in the same vein, which, yours truly, more often than not, fell far behind.

But it was a learning experience, to put it mildly, to work for him.

He was always full of ideas, and never appeared to tire. There were many a times that he polished my copy, especially the opening para or kick off and gave catchy and newsy headlines.

His knowledge of what was happening in the business world, though, he was mainly identified as a political journalist, was amazing. "It was difficult to keep pace with him," is putting it very mildly.

His plethora of news contacts extended beyond politics and into business and beyond, Wickrematunge was truly an all round journalist, and I will miss his constructive criticism and inputs to improve the business pages of both The Sunday Leader and The Morning Leader.

He was a man who worked hard, and, at the same time expected his journalists to be productive as him. Wickrematunge gave me several inputs to try to make the business pages of the above publications more relevant and topical.

He helped me to try to keep my copy short and punchier. Wickrematunge was a natural journalist, with ink running in his veins. He was not afraid to advise me to go to the "edge" in my writings, as long as the matter was accurate.

Wickrematunge tried to instil a sense of dynamism to the business pages, whilst at the same time being amenable and accommodative to what little inputs I was able to give.

Despite his seriousness when it came to work, he never lost his sense of humour and was full of witticisms and jokes, even when under pressure.

He was a man who spoke to the point and truly The Leader Publications was a "one man show," built by his blood, sweat, toil and tears.

Wickrematunge, though he was a person who drove his journalists to perform, was also a very humane person.

The spontaneous outpouring of grief of his staff, beginning from the minor staff, was, but a reflection, of how much he meant to them, and that their affection to him, extended beyond that of an employer-employee relationship, to something that which was more personal, more humane.


He was more than an editor to me

By Amantha Perera

Lasantha was more than a editor to me. He was the man who gave  me the first break in this field.

I walked into The Sunday Leader on that early January morning of 1998, I did not know the man. He did not know me, but he knew my father. Based on that recommendation I got the job. What Lasantha gave me was not a favoured position, no special legacies, no hand out stories, what he gave me was opportunity.

I can remember when the ceasefire came I told him I wanted to travel in the conflict areas, he readily gave the vehicles and the money. It became big boost to my fledging career, four years later my travels would result in him requesting me to write the weekly defence file.

Me and Lasantha hardly agreed, there were occasions when arguments would lead in cold stares for weeks and no words. He always wanted to rub it in by telling me that in no other newspaper would I be able to argue with the editor. I would hit back saying "Well man I don't work for any other newspaper, nor do I have the intention."

Of late I had restricted my contributions to the Leader. In fact I relinquished my duties as a full-timer last December, and was only contributing the weekly column. But where ever I went, whatever I do, he was the man who moulded me as a writer, as someone who went out there to the world to tell the stories of the voiceless.

In death Lasantha's demise has been turned into a political stunt. His body only remained at his beloved Leader office half hour or little more. I fought back tears and took pictures. As media colleague debated what to do next his funeral was showing signs of becoming a political circus. A politician was making moves to get a coffee machine fixed where the remains lay.

Lasantha would be made into a political issue, a political assassination. But he was much more. Yes, once another colleague said that he gets a high on politics, but Lasantha brought in that thrill of the chase in journalism, that sense the weakest, the voiceless, had a chance.

May be he outlived that idealistic image, may be, but to me he would always be the man who thought me the ropes of how to write a news story.  He is the man who signed at my wedding and who had the gumption to tell me to have it on a Saturday night. "Bugger, we have to put a newspaper together."


He was a second father

By Arthur Wamanan

The maximum that could happen to us is death. When that happens, we will not know what's going on around us. That's it. This is what Lasantha told me about death just over a year ago. This was how he looked at death. He is undoubtedly the most courageous person I had ever met. I never even dreamt that he would actually go away from us in such a tragic manner.

He was actually like my second father. I used to go to him for advice on almost everything. Be it work or my personal problems.

It was at The Sunday Leader that I learnt many things the hard way, and Lasantha was always there for me whenever I wanted. He guided me safely through the hard times I faced and helped me overcome each and every obstacle that came my way.

Four years down the line, I feel that I have changed, matured and in a position to handle difficulties, thanks to my beloved editor. But sadly, he is not with me anymore.

Now, I feel exposed. I feel that the shield, which was protecting me taken away. But, I'm sure that Lasantha will always be with each and every person at the Leader publications and will continue to guide the paper. May his soul rest in piece.


Remembering Lasantha

By Mirak Raheem

Lots of articles are being and will be written about Lasantha's contribution to the media and society in general. So there is little I could add apart from my personal impressions. He was my first boss. I joined The Sunday Leader as a cub reporter soon after leaving school in 1997 and worked there for a year before going to university.

Every morning as he raced through the office to get to his room he would bring with him an energy that forced all of us to speed up. He created strong impressions but my strongest memory is when he called me into his office to discuss a special assignment. He had a crazy idea of doing a scoop on Colombo's first (apparently) strip show for women.

He already had a title for the article in his head. He managed to cajole and bully me into going under cover, along with two female journalists. When the article did come out he was thrilled and wanted me to start covering parliamentary debates which I refused because I was already working for four other sections. Of course I regret it now as it would have been a perfect excuse to talk politics with Lasantha and to hear some of his vast collection of anecdotes.  

Working for the Leader it was difficult not to be infected by Lasantha's spirit. He was a source of encouragement and spurred on all his staff. Despite all the difficulties the paper faced, be they financial, political or violence, Lasantha would energise the office to keep going and to not be cowed.

The morning after his house came under grenade attack Lasantha walked in with his charismatic cheeky grin and defiant. I might not have agreed with his politics or his spin of facts but I still admired his tenacity and the strength of his convictions and feel richer for having known him.

The last time I came to Kalubowila Hospital, where Lasantha was taken to, was in August 2006 when Kethesh Loganathan was shot. Kethesh was my boss at the Centre for Policy Alternatives before he joined the Government Peace Secretariat. It is difficult not to compare the two even though they seemed to share little in common - their contrasting personalities and even perhaps in their motivations.

With their killing the similarity is thrown into sharp relief. They were in search of the truth - different truths perhaps but both fiercely determined to present to the public a counter narrative. They pursued the truth not for its own sake but in protection of critical values like democracy and justice.

 In both cases they were killed in order to silence them forever. They were killed because they not only spoke out but also because they were symbols of dissent who gave strength to others yearning to challenge.

The only fitting way to honour their memory and so many others, activists, journalists, and politicians who sought to protect democracy and human rights is to not submit to the self censorship and the culture of silence.


Lasantha changed the face of journalism

By Frederica Jansz

I have never believed in or adhered to lauding and singing the praises of a man or woman after they are dead. It is a practice I have abhorred and I will not, even at this juncture, paralysed as I am with shock at the brutal assassination of Lasantha  go down that road.  If I never told Lasantha during his lifetime that he was a near perfect human being and an ace fighter for media freedom, I am not going to sully his memory by saying so now.

I will instead put down here what I have told Lasantha to his face and repeated, to many who knew and were closely associated with him, as I was.

Lasantha was one of the most professional Editors I was fortunate enough to meet and work with.  During my five year tenure at The Sunday Leader he not only fine-tuned my journalistic skills but shared my passion and commitment for investigative journalism.  As I have at all times acknowledged to him and anyone else who would listen,   I could never have progressed as I did reaching a peak in my career if I did not have the full backing and support of Lasantha as my Editor.  He believed in me; he stood by me unconditionally and was at all times one of the most professional men I knew in the media world.

Lasantha not only honed my writing skills, he also supported my foray in television journalism encouraging me to help co-host his once popular 'Good Morning Sri Lanka' show on MTV.

Lasantha changed the face of journalism in Sri Lanka.  He not only possessed a keen nose for stories that exposed bribery and corruption, but also displayed amazing courage and strength of character, as well as the ability to publish an 'Expose' with gusto - on many an occasion, in the face of overwhelming odds.

Lasantha was consistently subjected to legal harassment and acts of violence and intimidation since he co- founded The Sunday Leader in 1994, together with his brother Lal.  In fact many such acts against him remained largely invisible to the general public, while casting a long, insidious shadow on free expression.

One incident in particular which emphasises this point is when Lasantha last year was threatened by President Mahinda Rajapakse in abusive language on the telephone.  On another occasion the current government ordered his arrest but did not carry it out.

Lasantha fought against a recurring pattern in this country in relation to the exploitation of government advertising and related services to secure favorable news coverage and discourage critical reporting.

Lasantha refused to be silenced or bow down to such strong armed tactics. Including, behind-the-scenes government interference with media freedom and editorial independence.

This "soft censorship" and its pervasive chilling effects had no effect on Lasantha's style of reporting.  An ardent believer in journalistic freedoms and independence - Lasantha's sole vice in this area -at a professional level - in my view-was his dalliances with politics and politicians.

A view I have freely expressed during his lifetime and watched his foray's in this department with dismay.

For, as a colleague and independently thinking journalist it saddened me to see a fellow journalist of Lasantha's calibre sacrifice professional journalism on the altar of politics.

This, of course, in no way justifies his brutal end. 

As I lay tribute to Lasantha's memory, I recall this quote by Alan Cohen which to me is the epitome of Lasantha. "It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power."


Whispering by Lasantha's deathbed

By Kshanika Argent

Throughout it's history, every outspoken article published in The Sunday Leader has come with a price.

I wasn't there when the press was sealed by the former regime or all those years ago when Lasantha was first shot at, or when he was pulled out of his car and beaten by thugs. It was the price he was willing to pay for his freedom of speech and ours - and our right to know.

I was there however on both occasions the press was attacked. No matter what happened, Lasantha refused to throw in the towel.

I've been there long enough to see just how he stood up for the freedom of expression, the freedom of the press, and that of his colleagues, whether his own or  rival publications.

Everyone I interviewed would greet me with, "Ah The Sunday Leader! Which dirty politician is Lasantha exposing this week?'

I watched people move around like ghosts at Kalubowila Hospital, hearing snippets of conversation. "He's dead. He's dead. I said he's dead!' mutters one lady quietly on the phone to someone who either couldn't hear or refused to.

I was standing around like everyone else, in shock, amongst the Police and STF there safeguarding the politicians who dropped by.

Many walked passed me muttering "What good are they (the police) now? He's gone. Too little too late..."

Back at editorial we burrow into a familiar hole called getting-the-story-out. It's only a mater of time until we hit the hardest fact; we're on our own now. As we work to put out The Sunday Leader without Lasantha questions are raised, who writes what, how many words, how many pages? No one asks the big question though. How does The Sunday Leader go on without him? We just do what he taught us to do, we keep writing.

As I write this, my mind wanders back to the words a man said to me at the hospital. I never got his name.

Shaking his head he muttered, "He did so much no? For freedom, for our freedom." He looked at an STF guard standing a few feet away and the words  said still ring in my ears. "Funny how things turn out. After all he did for us, we're still whispering in corners." I like to think those cops were laughing at the irony.


A phenomenon

By Zarani

Lasantha is one of a kind who can never be replaced. He was a great person who stood by his principles. He was extremely courageous and was the perfect gentleman. Sri Lanka has lost one of its greatest sons.


It won't be the same without Lasantha

By Ranee Mohamed

Dressed in white and wearing his best smile,  Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge strode into the world of journalism in 1980.  It was his first day at the Sun/Davasa newspaper located in Gunasena Mawatha, Hulftsdorp where he began his extraordinary journalistic career. His British based education and enthralling personality got Lasantha the job as Sub Editor on the Sun newspaper.

Interviewed by internationally acclaimed Editor (Sun/Weekend)  Rex de Silva, Lasantha Wickrematunge was asked to start  work immediately.

With a news desk of about 26 reporters,  Lasantha Wickrematunge found himself assigned the heavy beats - from the police and  court rounds to political news, and Lasantha strode on. He was a young reporter but made the headlines with ease, competing with the veterans of that era.

He made many contacts who respected his insightful news reporting.

Passed with flying colours

After a period of dedicated service  working through the days and nights at the Sun and Weekend newspapers - Lasantha Wickrematunge continued his career at the  Island newspaper where he became News Editor.

In his early 20s, Lasantha entered Law College, and juggled serious law studies with equally serious investigative journalism. It was not a surprise that he passed with flying colours.

Soon Lasantha Wickrematunge became a household name. A prolific writer, he wrote for hours with his left hand. That unmistakable scrawl was special to him. He wrote pages and pages, never getting tired of writing by hand. Time and again he would pause to hold the back of his neck and turn his head. His eyes were always red-rimmed; there was tiredness about him. Life was hard for him but he was determined to forge ahead.

An editor, writer and newsman and as serious as Lasantha Wickrematunge was, he remarkably was able to enjoy the lighter side of his working life. He laughed his way through life, making happy comments about special relationships, soft corners and crushes.

King of Kung Fu

He laughed as we blushed, but he never laughed at us. He was extraordinarily tolerant of human weaknesses and never bore a grudge. A teetotaler, he let others enjoy a drink as he pursued his weakness for chocolates. He was a king of Kung Fu, and also a soft-hearted artist at heart.

Lasantha's  great  strength of character made him magnanimous and broadminded. He never queried or questioned us on complaints or accusations. He bore it all and never hurt us in any way. Letting us do our work in our own stride, Lasantha Wickrematunge was a true journalist who never interfered with our copy or style.

There was never any pressure when working for this great Editor. He refused to believe the worst about people, but saw the best in us all instead. Lasantha always discussed events and happenings. He never discussed people.

There was never any petty questioning or queries when working with Lasantha, never any 'letters of explanation' or attempts to stop any articles that were written by our experienced journalists. These are truly the qualities of a good editor and Lasantha Wickrematunge had them all.

His staff was precious

To him his staff was precious; he protected us, led us and ensured within his means that we were all well and happy.

When our Sports Editor the late Gamini Senadhira was ill, Lasantha kept a close watch on him. It was Gamini who told me that Lasantha had taken him to see an ayurvedic doctor. Gamini lived in Malabe and Lasantha had personally taken him to the doctor and requested the doctor to do everything possible to cure Gamini.

Despite his journalistic load, Lasantha found time to play the Good Samaritan - a role which he played frequently, and  few of us knew about.  Lasantha Wickrematunge found more jobs for people than an average employment agency would have in its first year. He used his powerful contacts to help the poor and the helpless.

In times of trouble, Lasantha was always there. He was generous with his offer of 'lifts,' and offers to order pizza, biryani and ‚clairs.

Greatest weakness

Lasantha's greatest weakness was that he could never say 'no.' Thus every request was granted, our every wish fulfilled. 

Lasantha Wickrematunge  was moved beyond words by human suffering. Human interest stories were given generous space. In December 2007 Lasantha Wickrematunge personally intervened to publish an article on tsunami children before Christmas, just so that they will receive food, gifts and clothes. He was especially sensitive to the suffering of little children. Thus underprivileged children suffering from illnesses and hardship got great prominence in The Sunday Leader. The plight of refugees moved him to tears.

 He was a loving and caring father to his own lovely children, looking after their every need with an exceptionally strong sense of bonding and commitment.  They brought him great happiness and he always had their photographs at hand to ease his heart and mind during the long hard hours.

Lasantha walked with his hand in his pocket. Readily he would give unbelievably generous amounts of money to the injured, ailing or suffering and he did this despite his own commitments. Lasantha Wickrematunge was never interested in making money. To him life was about relationships and not about material gain, power and position.

Moved him deeply

Death made Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge a sad man. He endured the anguish of several deaths which moved him deeply - Gamini Athukorale, T. Maheswaran, Gen. Janaka Perera, Dr. Johnpulle and wife, Sripathi Sooriyaarachchi, are but a few of them - each tore into the  very being of this good man.

And a quality that will always live on is the fact that he never forgot his departed friends. The moment a death occurred Lasantha would call immediately: "Write a tribute. Make it a full page," he would stress sadly. Thereafter, he remembered every anniversary.

Lasantha Wickrematunge hailed from a respectable and prominent  family in Kotahena. He had his education at St. Benedict's College and the love he had for his school grew stronger with time.  Living in a large mansion-type house since his childhood, Lasantha enjoyed every comfort in life.

His mother Chandra and father Harris doted on their youngest child. Smothered by parental love and secured by a strong bonding with his brothers and sisters,  Lasantha  was able to look at life as a clear portrait. It is based on this clarity that he made his sound and clear judgement later on in life.

Crusade for justice

Clearly, Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge had no need to carry on his relentless crusade for justice. He was comfortable in life. His ancestral affluence was enough to give him a life without want. Yet those didn't detract him from the causes he fought for in the interests of the common man.

Lasantha's excellence and his guidance got The Sunday Leader a bonanza of awards each year. At most times, articles written under his pen names were always picked out and lauded. But Lasantha like all great journalists preferred to remain in the background and applaud while his journalists received the awards. 

It was Lasantha's quest for justice that saw the birth of The Sunday Leader in 1994. For 14 years, Lasantha worked, sometimes single-handedly to mould  The Sunday Leader into the celebrity newspaper status it enjoys today.

His excellence made him an enigma on News First and his Good Morning Sri Lanka made him an intellectual celebrity on television. He had a great regard for MTV/MBC and worked closely to produce masterpieces.

A full time job

 Lasantha's bravery also got him the prestigious Transparency International Award, a credit which he once again wanted to share with us.

Writing investigative reports, and his political column 'Suranimala,' Lasantha worked well into the wee hours of the morning at most times without meals. His life was not easy, his task was even harder.  To Lasantha Wickrematunge, fighting corruption was a full time job.

'Take care Lasantha," I have told him many times. One day he told me  "Don't worry Ranee, you die only once. I am not afraid to die. Anyway,  I have you to write an article about me when I die."

It was a day I dreaded. It was a day I wished would never come. But on Thursday, January 8, just when I expected him to tap on the glass of our Computer Room and give me the happy wave that he always did, came the news that Lasantha had been shot.

The Sunday Leader was Lasantha's very heart and soul and he put his hard work and sweat to keep it alive.

And it was last Thursday, January 8, dressed in white  that he sealed his commitment with blood, tears and his last breaths.

Lasantha, it was  you who kept us inspired. It was for you we worked with a deep sense of commitment. But  they took you away and you had to go, reluctantly we know. It was so sudden - even without a goodbye. Lasantha, a thousand editions may pass, but your image will remain etched in gold in my heart and mind.

Goodbye dear Editor - till we meet again, someday.


"Beginning of the sound of silence" - Rex de Silva

Rex de Silva, former Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief of the Sun and Weekend newspaper and presently Managing Editor of the Borneo Bulletin who partially resides in USA, speaking to The Sunday Leader from New Jersey said that the slaying of Lasantha Wickrematunge is the beginning of the sound of silence for the press.

"I recruited him and showed him the first steps of investigative journalism. I feel so sad," said De Silva.

"Lasantha Wickrematunge was a very good journalist. He was going to expose wrong doings, corruption and abuse of power. He did a good job for the country. He also trained other people to take on his good work and I hope his colleagues will continue the good work," said award winning veteran Editor, Rex de Silva.


After the victory comes the celebration

By Qadri Ismail

Clearly, this government has decided to celebrate what it deems a victory over the LTTE by piling murder upon murder. By turning its guns on those it deems its other enemies.

Last year, J. S. Tissainayagam was merely imprisoned for expressing his opinion. Keith Noyahr and Namal Perera were brutally assaulted. This year, just a few days after capturing Killinochchi, Lasantha Wickrematunge is killed for the same crime.

What makes it truly terrifying to be in Sri Lanka today is the conviction that there will be others. Many others. Journalists, lawyers, rights activists of all kinds. For, in Sri Lanka today, the Sri Lanka run by the Rajapakses, dissent, the pivotal constituent of a free society, has been made a crime.

Clearly, this government intends to intimidate, terrorise and, where that fails, eliminate all forms of dissent by murder. The only question one could ask is: how does one stop it? But that question can wait.

Honour a life

For, while one mourns a death, while one protests a murder, while one vows to resist, one must also honour a life.

From his early days as a journalist, Lasantha would work his butt off in pursuit of a good news story. As a young reporter at The Island I was, quite frankly, jealous of his success; but then I figured it out - and decided to learn from him. It seemed people couldn't resist talking to him for some magical reason, but that wasn't quite the case.

Like every good journalist, Lasantha worked without regard to the clock. (And unlike them, stayed sober while he did so!) Always a charmer, he nevertheless cultivated his sources carefully, diligently, patiently. If people talked to him, it was because of his tireless effort. He ignored no source.

Consequently, when he investigated a scandal, it wasn't surprising that he uncovered its every detail, however trivial. That was the strength of his work: he convinced you not just by making extravagant accusations against the powerful, but by the weight of the detail of his reporting. At his best, Lasantha convinced you that there couldn't be another side to the story.

What moved him, however, was not the scent of a good story, but the possibility of a sensational headline. Lasantha believed, of course, that the freedom of expression must never be diluted. More importantly, though, he was compelled by a strong sense of justice.

A sense of responsibility

The more powerful he felt, especially in government, he had a sense of responsibility. They were elected, or appointed, to do a job of work - not inflate their bank balances. And certainly not to treat the law as nonexistent. If they did, they had to be called to account.

This takes courage in any political system. It takes unflagging conviction in one like ours. For, if one did not believe passionately in what one did, one would always be tempted to compromise. But that word didn't make Lasantha's lexicon. If you have conviction you will have courage, or find it, and Lasantha never lost it.

Most importantly, of course, in the cause of peace. He never advocated war as a solution to the national question. And I urge - nay, I beg - those appalled by his murder, but otherwise supportive of this government to reflect, today, upon the relation between both kinds of violence.

Advocated peace 

Lasantha advocated peace as a matter of justice. He heard the voice of the underdog. He stood for the kind of free and equal country we want Sri Lanka to be, not the corrupt, intolerant, dictatorial one it is.

Just a few weeks ago, this newspaper carried a stirring editorial in support of gay rights. And it surely couldn't have escaped the attention of Sri Lankan feminists that The Sunday Leader, of all our English language newspapers, was the least likely, pictorially, to objectify women, to display them meagerly clothed.

Yes, The Sunday Leader was sometimes irritatingly one-sided. But that side was never that of the powerful.

And our powerful might well be reminded, today, of Ranasinghe Premadasa. Unburdened by a war in the north, his once popular government terrorised the south. It killed hundreds of Sinhalese, including my good friend the journalist Richard de Zoysa.

At Premadasa's death, the people celebrated with fireworks.


Free media's darkest day

By Nirmala Kannangara and Arthur Wamanan

Subsequent to the brutal killing of the Editor-in-Chief of The Sunday Leader, civil society, human rights activists and politicians among others expressed their shock and dismay over the foul murder and urged the government to hold an impartial inquiry to bring the assailants to book without delay.

An unidentified gang of eight assailants on four motorcycles shot Lasantha Wickrematunge on his chest and head on Thursday, January 8 in a high security zone in Attidiya, in close proximity to the Ratmalana Airport and the Air force Base.

A little over 48 hours after the MTV/MBC network was completely damaged by a well organised gang of about 20 people,  Lasantha Wickrematunge who was on his way to office was shot in broad day light amidst many onlookers. Three hours later he succumbed to his injuries while undergoing surgery at the Colombo South Teaching Hospital.

"By the time he was brought in he was in a stable condition and the medical team did their utmost  to save the life of Wickrematunge but failed in their attempt," Director, Colombo South Teaching Hospital Dr. Anil Jasinghe told the media.

Meanwhile Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa at the cabinet press briefing later that day told journalists that the government was shocked to hear of the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor and said that the President had ordered a full inquiry into the killing with a view to bringing the killers to book at the earliest.

"It was the President who ordered to send the best medical team to the Kalubowila Hospital where Wickrematunge was getting emergency treatment," the Minister said.

However opposition parliamentarians and heads of media institutions were critical of the government and said that the government incited hatred against Wickrematunge and cut short the life of the most talented and courageous journalist in the country.

"It was the work of the Rajapakse brothers and the government should take the sole responsibility for the assassination and bring the killers to book immediately," the opposition urged.

Following are views of a cross section of people on the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge.


Death knell of democracy - Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero

The Chief Incumbent, Naga Viharaya Kotte, Ven. Maduluwawe Sobitha Thero told The Sunday Leader that the assassination of veteran journalist and Editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge was the death knell of the country's democracy and added that Sri Lanka has now become a state of murderers and was no longer a dharmadvipa.

"Although we have seen the continuous attacks on journalists over the past few years the brutal assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge in broad day light is the severest blow the country has ever witnessed," Ven. Thero said.

According to Ven. Sobitha Thero those who were behind this cowardly act have not gunned down Wickrematunge but the country's democracy.

"The late Editor's work will be continued but the country's democracy is in great peril. People should have the liberty to express their views and talk without any restrictions. It is sad to note that those who promised to safeguard media freedom are now assassinating the unbending media personalities in the country. If this continues it will be a threat to the country," Ven. Thero claimed.


Sri Lanka's darkest day - Neraj Wickremesinghe, Chief Executive Officer, TNL Radio

Neraj Wickremesinghe, the Chief Executive Officer, TNL Radio while condemning the brutal assassination of the Editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge told The Sunday Leader that this loss to the country would be felt badly in the days to come.

"At a time when the country needs fearless media personalities to expose bribery and corruption it is a tremendous blow to lose Wickrematunge at this unexpected moment," Wickremesinghe stated.

Speaking further Wickremesinghe said that he was shocked to hear about the attack on Wickrematunge who was a very close friend of his and that he is yet to  get over  the shock over the incident.

"Wickrematunge was a fearless media personality and the service he rendered was invaluable to the country. Although I want to speak more about this humane person I have lost for words now," Wickremesinghe stated.


A gutty personality, nobody could replace him - Victor Ivan

Chief Editor, Ravaya Victor Ivan said that although he was in some way critical of Lasantha Wickrematunge he respected Wickrematunge for being bold  enough to expose the bribery and corruption within the government.

Ivan told The Sunday Leader that the present trend of attacking journalists began with the abduction of Keith Noyahr and said that the recent attack on the MTV/MBC network and the brutal assassination of Wickrematunge could have a close connection to each other.

"Our friendship ran over several years and I could boldly say that he was the most courageous, fearless and respectable media personality that the country has ever produced. Lasantha was a person who was never scared of facing any threat and whenever anybody requested him to be careful he always said that since everybody would have to face death he too was willing to face it at any time," Ivan said.

 Ivan further said that he was deeply shocked to hear of the brutal assassination and added that Lasantha was a person with guts and there would be no one else to replace him.

"Let the government hold an impartial inquiry and bring the assailants to book irrespective of any affiliations," Ivan added.


I will kneel down before the people to apologise for bringing a murderous regime to power - Mangala Samaraweera

Convenor, SLFP (M) Wing Mangala Samaraweera said that he was ready to kneel before the people of this country to apologise for bringing the Rajapakse regime into power.

"I should say that I too have to take the responsibility for all these murders as I am part and parcel of forming this brutal regime.  The government gunned down the The Editor of The Sunday Leader, a senior journalist in the country as they could not stand  the criticisms of Lasantha Wickrematunge" Samaraweera told The Sunday Leader.

According to Samaraweera the time has come for all the patriot people to come forward to get rid of this brutal government," Samaraweera said.

"Never in the history of the country  were journalists  killed and Wickrematunge's assassination would not be the last. Some more could follow, and the time has now come to take action against the Rajapakse brothers regime that has ruined the country and the economy," Samaraweera further stated.


How could this happen in a High Security Zone? - Shan Wickremesinghe, Chairman, TNL Network

Condemning the brutal assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge TNL Chairman, Shan Wickremesinghe told The Sunday Leader that it was Lasantha who stood by him when he was in trouble several years ago.

"What a unique person Lasantha was? Whatever  he said  was accepted as correct.  Lasantha was such a talented person. All this happened in the vicinity of the Air Force and the Ratmalana Airport, which are situated in the high security zone. The Mt. Lavinia police and the Dehiwela police should take the sole responsibility for this brutal killing and the government should take immediate action to find out as to who is responsible for this cowardly act," added Wickremesinghe.

Wickremesinghe further said that Lasantha had been a very close friend of his and said that his demise was an irreplable loss to him.


Heading towards a dictatorship - JVP

The JVP politbureau issuing a statement has condemned the brutal killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge and has stated that the country is now heading towards a dictatorship.

"This government is trying to introduce a Marcos style governance to Sri Lanka and if it is so all the patriotic movements in the country are ready to defeat it. The brutal assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge is highly regrettable and although the JVP too is against the stance of some media personalities,  we believe in handling the situation  in a democratic manner -  not  eliminate them," the statement adds.

The report further stated that this government is taking brutal action against the media personnel who stand for justice and added that it was a fine example as to how a government minister threatened employees of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation.

"This same minister attacked a  Sirasa cameramen and the latest incident was the attack on the MTV network. Now they have killed Lasantha Wickrematunge and unless an impartial investigation is carried out to bring the killers to book the people of this country would not be ready to accept the government claims. If they fail to hold an impartial inquiry we as a responsible political party would agitate to topple this gun cultured regime," the report has further added.

Leader of the Democratic People's Front (DPF) speaking to The Sunday Leader on the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge said that the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge was the peak, as far as media suppression was concerned.

"I do not look at Lasantha Wickrematunge as an individual alone. Apart from being an individual, he is an institution. He was a symbol of free media in the country. The regime has assassinated a person who raised his voice for the benefit of the  free media. This cannot be taken as an isolated incident where media persons and institutions have been targeted. This is the peak," he said.


He was murdered as he exposed corruption within the government  - Tissa Attanayake

General Secretary UNP, Tissa Attanayake who was in a state of shock at the demise of the Editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper, Lasantha Wickrematunge said that unless precautionary measures were taken the government would kill more and more journalists who stand against injustice.

"Lasantha was a fearless journalist who wanted to expose corruption within the government. Is this the democracy that this government is boasting of? On the one side the heroic soldiers are dying in the war field and in the south the state terrorism is unleashed  killing all those who stand up for justice and work against corruption. We will start our protests against this brutal regime from now onwards till we send them home," Attanayake told The Sunday Leader.  


Enormous attack on Sri Lanka's free media - Editor Lakbima

Editor, Lakbima Newspaper Jatila Wellaboda while condemning the brutal assassination told The Sunday Leader that this was an enormous attack on the country's free media movement.

"Why do such things happen in this country? Where is law and order in this country ? The journalists and the media institutions that expose the corruption of this government are constantly under attack. Unless this trend is stopped the future would be bleak," Wellaboda stated.


State terrorism has replaced LTTE terrorism - Rauf Hakeem

Sri Lanka Muslim Congress Leader (SLMC) Rauf Hakeem said that the assassination of the Editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge was  testimony to the courage and ability he had to expose the corruption, bribery and mismanagement within the present regime.

"Lasantha did not die in vain but for the  cause of fearless reporting. He fought against corruption and bribery within the government and was strong enough to expose many controversial dealings of this government. He also fought for media freedom although he could not achieve it. His death is a great loss to the country and the opposition considers this assassination more serious  than the assassination  of a politician.  Although we are opposition members we still did not have the courage to take on the government as Lasantha did," Hakeem said.

According to Hakeem, Lasantha showed the embodiment of journalistic bravery as he was the only person who could expose fearlessly the corruption at the highest levels of government.

"At a time when our heroic soldiers are sacrificing their lives to safeguard the territorial integrity of the country,  state terrorism has replaced  LTTE terrorism," Hakeem further added.


A full investigation will be held  - Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa

While condemning the killing of The Sunday Leader Editor, Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa told The Sunday Leader that the entire government was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Lasantha Wickrematunge

"Wickrematunge was a close friend of this government who once contested on the SLFP ticket. Upon hearing the sad news the President has ordered the Police Department to hold an impartial investigation and to bring the killers to book," Yapa said.

According to Yapa it was under the directive of President Rajapakse that a group of eminent doctors were hurried to the Colombo South Teaching Hospital but they too could not save the precious life of Wickrematunge.


The world condemns

Governments, human rights organisations, media watchdogs, political parties, civil society speak out in one voice

HRW: Attacks highlight threat to media

The killing of a prominent newspaper editor and the bombing of a private television station on January 6, 2009, highlight the Sri Lankan government’s failure to stop violence against the media, Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) said. The groups said that past investigations into attacks on journalists have led nowhere, and that the government should act quickly to bring the perpetrators of the attacks to justice.

Unidentified armed men in close proximity to a security forces checkpoint shot The Sunday Leader newspaper Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, a senior journalist acclaimed for his investigative reporting, during his morning drive to work. He died shortly after. On January 6, a dozen heavily armed men badly damaged the studios of the private Maharaja Television station on the outskirts of Colombo by detonating claymore landmines and grenades.

"The fact that these attacks were carried out in broad daylight against vocal critics of the government without any arrests or law enforcement action adds to the climate of impunity in Sri Lanka," said Roger Normand, Asia-Pacific Director at the ICJ. "The government must not only condemn these heinous acts, but take effective measures to bring the perpetrators to justice."

Wickrematunge’s in-depth investigations into corruption and nepotism in the Sri Lankan government frequently made him the target of intimidation attempts and lawsuits. Maharaja Television came under attack after state media labeled it "unpatriotic" for its coverage of the government’s recent military campaigns in the war with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). On January 2, 2009, government forces captured the LTTE administrative center in the northern Wanni area.

"Sri Lanka prides itself as a functioning democracy. Yet media freedom, a vital pillar of democracy, has increasingly come under attack," said Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. "The government should not take its recent military victories as a signal that it can stifle dissent."

The freedom to express views opposing those held by the government has come under severe threat in Sri Lanka. A prominent ethnic Tamil journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam, a Tamil publisher, N. Jasiharan, and his wife, V. Valamathy, were arbitrarily arrested in March 2008 and six months later charged under the state terrorism laws. These cases have raised serious due process concerns.

On September 27, 2008, unknown assailants flung a grenade into the home of J. C. Weliamuna, a lawyer who is executive director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, an anti-corruption group. Weliamuna is counsel in several fundamental rights cases involving torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances. So far, no one has been arrested for this attack.

Impunity for human rights violations remains a disturbing norm in Sri Lanka. Since 2006 the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse has increasingly intimidated and tried to silence the media, nongovernmental organisations, and others with independent or dissenting views with regard to the government’s military policies and human rights practices. Senior government officials have attacked such critics, calling them supporters of the separatists and traitors.

"The Sri Lankan government should ensure that perpetrators of rights abuses are brought to justice," said Adams. "For too many years and in too many cases, those who commit violence have gone unpunished while those who dared to speak have paid with their lives. This culture of impunity has to end now."


An attempt to silence the media — Bishop Duleep de Chikera

The assassination of the Editor of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge, in broad day light on a public road in Colombo last morning, sent shock waves of anger, fear and desperation throughout the country. This deliberate and senseless act must be condemned by all Sri Lankans who value life and media freedom. It is part of a wider and worsening strategy to suppress and silence the media.

I extend the condolences and assurance of the prayers of our Church to his wife Sonali, his children and the rest of his family; as well as the staff at The Sunday Leader. May the God of truth and consolation sustain you through the difficult days ahead and guide you in the ways of courage and truth that Lasantha himself strived towards.

Mr Wickrematunge was a leading media personality, committed to investigative journalism. His assassination, in times like these when truth is deliberately distorted, is a severe blow to the responsible role the media is called upon to play in our journey towards a just, democratic culture. It is also an indication of the worsening crisis in good governance and the fast deteriorating law and order situation.

In these circumstances it is only the collective response of a mature, courageous and sensible political, civil society and religious leadership that can prevent the country from plunging into inevitable chaos.


UN outraged by brutal killing

Dear Mrs. Sonali Wickrematunge,

On behalf of the United Nations system in Sri Lanka, I express outrage and revulsion over the brutal murder of the Editor in Chief of TSL newspaper and your beloved husband Mr. Lasantha Wickrematunge.

We respected him as a fearless and indefatigable journalist and an unrepentant defender of freedom of expression.

I am personally grateful for the briefing he gave me in his office shortly after my arrival. I saw his pride and love as he told me about his family members referring to photos in his office, and his commitment and pride as he mentioned to me about the Leader. I can only imagine the loss you feel.

The United Nations firmly believes a free press is essential to democracy and consistently stands for free, independent and pluralistic media worldwide. It is our conviction that Mr. Wickrematunge fought with his pen for those ideals.

On behalf of the UN system in Sri Lanka I express our heartfelt condolences to you and grieved family members. With deepest sympathies.

Neil Buhne

Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator


Assassination of an International Integrity Award Winner

Transparency International Sri Lanka expresses deep sorrow and dismay at the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Editor of The Sunday Leader. Mr Wickrematunge was a pioneering journalist who bravely battled corruption through the media, even when his life was under threat.

In 2000 Mr. Wickrematunge’s work was appreciated internationally when he was a recipient of the first ever Integrity Award from Transparency International.

The assassination of Mr Wickrematunge is a terrifying blow against the freedom of expression in the island. Free media is a key component of a democratic state and an absolute prerequisite for good governance. Any attack on journalists and their institutions will only further erode good governance in this country, ultimately resulting in an unsafe environment for all Sri Lankans.

The assassination of Mr Wickrematunge and last Monday’s attack on the MTV/MBC studio complex paint a dark future for democracy in Sri Lanka and places the burden of responsibility firmly on state machinery and only a speedy and impartial investigation can absolve the government of guilt or complicity.


Editors Guild

The Editors Guild of Sri Lanka condemns the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge with the severest, possible terms and records its disgust at the trend in which media freedom, or what is left of it in Sri Lanka is being trampled upon.

This incident, coming in the wake of the arson attack on the MTV/MBC station early on Tuesday morning, clearly displays a complete disregard for democracy and rule of law. We are witnessing an ongoing campaign against the dissemination of information to the citizenry and democratic dissent. An adversarial relationship between any government and the media is good for governance and Lasantha epitomised this.

It is also the inalienable right of the people to be kept informed and to decide on the choice of media. What is most disconcerting is that there is no real attempt to stop or in the least to discourage this violent campaign that has been unleashed.

The finder, therefore, would point in the direction of the government due to the inaction on its part to stem, this slide into authoritarianism that the people of this country abhor.


IFJ pays tribute to Lasantha

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expressed shock at the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, one of South Asia’s leading journalists and press freedom campaigners, who was shot dead yesterday in a targeted assassination.

Lasantha, Editor in Chief of The Sunday Leader in Sri Lanka, was shot after his car was ambushed by assassins on motorcycles. They blocked his car, used crowbars to smash the windows and shot him at a busy intersection.

President Mahinda Rajapakse reacted sharply to the murder and suggested that it may be part of a conspiracy to discredit his government.

"This brutal attack and murder of a great fighter for press freedom strikes at the heart of democracy," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "We welcome the President’s concern, but given the history of personal attacks that Lasantha and his newspaper group have suffered at the hands of the authorities it is impossible to ignore the fact that the government bears some responsibility for creating the climate that led to this outrage."

In October last year Lasantha met with an international mission of IFJ members. At the time he was in combative action successfully mobilising public support against Sri Lankan government attempts to grab sweeping powers of cancelling broadcast licences and censorship over the content of news channels.

"Lasantha was a steadfast opponent of every threat to press freedom," said White. "Even when other media kept silent, he would speak out, often as a lone voice. He showed inspiring courage and conviction to all."

The IFJ fears that attacks on critical voices in media may increase following the Sri Lankan government’s recent military successes against the Tigers. "A climate of triumphalism can be toxic for press freedom," said White. 


Statement by the High Commission of India

We are deeply shocked and saddened to learn of the demise of the well-regarded Editor of Leader Group of Publications of Sri Lanka, Mr. Lasantha Wickrematunge, following an armed attack in Colombo. 

This deplorable incident comes in the wake of the series of attacks on and intimidation of media organisations and personalities in Sri Lanka including the recent bombing of the studios of Maharaja TV.  We hold media freedom as an essential element of any democracy and such attacks are detrimental to the idea of democratic freedom in Sri Lanka. 

We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate these attacks fully and bring the perpetrators of these reprehensible attacks to justice.


SLPI shocked

The Board of Directors of the Sri Lanka Press Institute expresses shock and horror at today’s cold blooded murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge by unidentified gunmen.

It is well known that the late Wickrematunge had an adversarial relationship with both the incumbent government as well as its predecessor. This killing has taken place just two days after the armed attack on the MTV/MBC television station at Depanama.

Inaction over previous such incidents has created a public perception that both these attacks may have involved a state agency and it is incumbent on the President and the government to dispel such suspicion by a thorough and meticulous investigation. No suspects have been arrested over recent attacks on media personalities including Keith Noyahr, Deputy Editor of the Nation, and Namal Perera of the Sri Lanka Press Institute.

The transparent investigation and speedy arrest of suspects is most essential in the interest of all concerned. The directors of the SLPI urge the government to utilise all resources at its command to bring the killers to justice.

A deadly trend emerging

Prayathna People’s Movement vehemently condemns the brutal assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. This is the second cruel attack on media within 72 hours. The entire civil society is shocked with this sad news while the memory of Sirasa attack still looming in the country.

This is not the first time The Sunday Leader has been attacked. Earlier, Mr. Wickrematunge was threatened and the printing press was burnt. Two days ago we pointed out that a fascist shadow is being spread all over the country. With this attack, this has been well proved. It is now clear that a powerful group which does not tolerate any dissenting views operates in the country.

Mr. Wickaramatunga is one of the few journalists who revealed corruption and malpractices in the country. He always stood for media freedom. Media freedom is fundamental in any democracy. The attack on Wickramatunga clearly demonstrates that there is a threat to journalists.


‘Journalists have a right to tell their story’

It is stated that since the constitution has granted the right on the people including journalists working in a democratic country, to follow their own ideologies, it is up to the journalists to provide true and correct info to the people and nobody has the right to silence these journalists by a bullet.

The Nava Sihala Urumaya recognises Lasantha Wickrematunge as a courageous journalist involved in investigative journalism who worked tirelessly to give the truth to the people. The whole country is aware that there have been several attempts on his life on earlier occasions as well. The assassination of veteran journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge is a deadly blow to democracy. We call on the IGP and the police force to bring to justice these hired assassins.


Worst situation — Asia Media Forum

The brutal attacks on independent media in Sri Lanka, which resulted in the strafing of an independent TV station complex and the execution-style murder of veteran journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, once more cast doubt on the state of press freedom in this island nation. For years now, the Sri Lankan media have been the victims of threats and other forms of violence and from the looks of it, the situation is at its worst.


One of the few to speak out

The editorials of the unique, courageous and honest Editor of The Sunday Leader became a beacon of hope and an example of moral courage by a man loving his country who stood up against the darkness that is destroying it.

The whole world is disgusted by the murder of Mr. Wickrematunge, by the criminalisation and corruption of the Sri Lankan government and civil Society. Mr Wickrematunge was one of few that dared to stand up against it and has now paid the ultimate price. God bless his soul and may his work continue.

Jan Stjernsward

MD, PhD, FRCP (Edin), Sweden


World Bank calls for investigation

The World Bank expressed grave concern about the growing incidents of violent attacks on the media in Sri Lanka, including the brutal killing of several journalists. Free and independent media is fundamental to the sustainable economic development of Sri Lanka.

Violence against media has a profoundly negative impact on the ability of the media to fulfill its core watchdog function and to carry out its role as a medium of accountability and reflection of the citizens’ voice.

The World Bank urges the Government of Sri Lanka to hold full and transparent investigations into incidents of violence against the media.


British High Commission statement

We condemn in the strongest possible terms the continuing acts of violence and intimidation against the media in Sri Lanka, including the attack on January 6 on the MTV headquarters and the killing of the Chief Editor of The Sunday Leader. We welcome the stated commitment of the government to investigate these incidents. Prompt action to hold those responsible to account is essential in creating an environment in which people from all communities in Sri Lanka can live without fear and in which progress on a political solution to end the conflict will be possible.


Professionals will work only if democracy is maintained

After having worked for over 15 years in global companies I decided to serve the country whilst reading for the doctorate but, the recent attack on MBC/MTV and now the killing of the Sunday Leader-editor demotivates people like us who want to work for the betterment of the country. The killers/offenders must be brought to justice immediately so that professionals from the private sector will want to voluntarily come and serve the nation and bring peace to this beautiful country of ours.

Rohantha Athukorala

Director Economic Affairs

Government Peace Secretariat


United States ‘deeply concerned’

Statement on assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge and attack on Sirasa TV

The United States strongly condemns the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and the January 5th attack on Sirasa TV.  These deplorable acts mark the latest in a series of attempts to quell independent voices in Sri Lanka . 

The murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge is a shocking blow to independent media in Sri Lanka.  This is the second attack in 48 hours against individuals or media outlets and just the latest in a string of incidents against journalists. 

The United States is deeply concerned that such attacks undermine efforts to build a united and democratic Sri Lanka where the rights of all people are protected.  We call on the Government of Sri Lanka to investigate these attacks expeditiously, bring the perpetrators to justice, and take all possible measures to protect freedom of expression for members of the press.


European Union condemns killing

Statement by European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy, Benita Ferrero-Waldner:

"I was deeply shocked to learn about today’s assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, the chief editor of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader newspaper. This attack comes just two days after a privately-owned television station was attacked and set on fire and follows several incidents of harassment and threats to journalists in Sri Lanka that have occurred over recent months. Our concerns about the freedom of the media, already under severe pressure from assaults and intimidation, have been exacerbated by the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge. 

As in other countries where the safety and independence of people working in the media are under threat, I express my admiration at the willingness of Sri Lankan journalists to continue their work in the face of risks like these.

I call upon the government to put in place protection mechanisms to ensure the safety of journalists in Sri Lanka . It is essential that citizens continue to benefit from media providing free and accurate reporting on national affairs.

I urge the Sri Lankan authorities to take all necessary steps to bring the perpetrators to justice, as there can be no impunity for these terrible crimes."


National Peace Council urges Right to Life

Barely three days after the MTV television station was bombed and razed by an armed group, armed assassins have claimed the life of one of Sri Lankas foremost journalists, Lasantha Wickrematunge.  The killing of this courageous journalist will add to the sense of intimidation and fear in the media, which has already suffered several such attacks and killings of media persons.

As Editor of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge was fearless in exposing political weaknesses and corruption in the government and society in general, and the impunity that accompanies them.  He also advocated a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict and highlighted the cost of the war which the government is undertaking. Although an individual, he was also the creator and leader of a media institution and his assassination can be construed as a death blow to media freedom to take up the issues he did.

Lasantha Wickrematunge will long be remembered by those who believe in the role of the media to create a politically literate society which alone can protect democracy.  The National Peace Council condemns his assassination and mourns his loss. We grieve with his family, colleagues and friends and trust that his sacrifice would mark an end to a culture of impunity that seems to be overtaking us.

Thinking people can only reflect on Pastor Niemoller’s saying, Who is next?  At this time, in our helplessness, we can only appeal to the government and our political leaders to follow democratic and righteous norms and ensure that the freedom of expression, freedom of media, and the Right to Life of all is protected.

— National Peace Council


Amnesty International worried over climate of impunity

Lasantha Wickrematunge, Editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper, was shot on Thursday morning by unidentified gunmen while travelling in Mount Lavinia. Mr Wickrematunge was rushed to Kalubowila Hospital where he died.

Amnesty International urges the Government of Sri Lanka to publicly condemn this as well as other attacks on the media and launch an independent investigation. To date, Amnesty International is unaware of any investigation that has led to the arrest and prosecution of those believed responsible for the killing of journalists and other media workers. The lack of any thorough investigations into killings means that these kinds of attacks can continue with impunity.

The Sunday Leader has carried a number of articles exposing political interference and corruption in privatisation deals. The Sunday Leader commentators have also drawn attention to human rights abuses in the context of intensified fighting.

This is not the first time that The Sunday Leader and its staff have come under attack: in 2007, the printing presses at Leader Group of Publications were attacked by 10 armed men who threatened employees and set fire to some of the equipment and the newspaper that had just been printed. In 2006, Lasantha Wickrematunge was threatened with arrest under anti-terrorist laws over a story criticising the President.

The shooting comes just two days after the privately owned Maharajah Broadcasting Company/MTV television studios were ransacked by a gang of attackers who used claymore bombs to damage property.

Journalists are increasingly frightened to express alternative views in Sri Lanka. Amnesty International has received increasing reports of death threats to independent journalists.

Ensuring respect for human rights around the world very often relies on impartial and rigorous media coverage. Without exposure and public scrutiny, abuses can flourish under a veil of secrecy and denial. The climate of impunity for attacks on the media has made it impossible to get an accurate and impartial picture of what is happening in Sri Lanka. 


Ranjan Wijeratne Foundation mourns

It is with horror and disgust that we learnt of the murder of your Chief Editor Mr Lasantha Wickremetunge at the hands of a vile assassin. Please accept our deepest sympathies on this sad occasion.

Whilst we do have a different opinion of the attitude towards the war and its operation to the views expressed by your newspaper, in the past he has allowed our critical comments to be published. We know that he encouraged freedom of speech and media rights. It is because of this stance that he paid a heavy price.

We hope that despite this setback that you will continue. We fully support media freedom but we will challenge you if it is necessary but we will do so with a pen, NOT with a gun. Those who sow the wind will always reap the whirlwind — ask Prabhakaran.

Kind regards and please convey our sympathies to his family and all members of your staff that worked under stressful circumstances

Jith Wijeyesekera

Chairman

Ranjan Wijeratne Foundation


AHRC’s ominous early warning

The Asian Human Rights Commission, which two days ago raised the alarm on the possibility of more political assassinations in Sri Lanka is saddened by the confirmation of this within less than 48 hours by the assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, a prominent journalist. The AHRC once more calls on the local and international community to take note of the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka and to do all it can to intervene for the purpose of saving lives.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Chief Editor of the English weekly, The Sunday Leader, and one of the most senior and prominent journalists was fatally injured, January 8, by two gunmen who followed him on his way to work. He noticed the two men following him on a motorbike and through his mobile telephone informed several of his friends.

Mr. Wickramatunga was a primary target of the Rajapakse regime and particularly the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapakse. An unsuccessful attempt was made to arrest Mr. Wickrematunge which was prevented by some senior police officers who refused to arrest him and also due to strong intervention on the part of journalists who gathered at his premises.

Thereafter the printing press of The Sunday Leader, which was situated close to a security zone was attacked and burned by a group of unidentified persons who were never arrested. It is widely believed that the group was sent by the ruling party.

Just two days earlier about 20 unidentified attackers raided the premises of Sirasa TV and caused damage amounting to Rs. 200 million to the communications equipment. The group assaulted the staff and left a claymore mine said to weight eight and half kilograms. Sirasa TV is the most important centre for the independent media in Sri Lanka. The opposition leader said that the government is responsible for the attack and that members of a military unit carried it out.

In protest against these attacks the opposition United National Party walked out of parliament that afternoon. The earlier attack on Sirisa TV provoked protests from journalists and the opposition and also from foreign embassies including the United States. Following the attack the AHRC issued a statement entitled, SRI LANKA: The attack on Sirasa TV an early warning of worse things to come.

In less than 48 hours this prediction has been unfortunately proved true. Both the attack on the senior editor Lasantha Wickramatunga and Sirasa TV appears to be part of a scheme to physically exterminate a number of persons that seem to have been listed as undesirables by this regime. In all likelihood many other unidentified gunmen must be lying in wait for opposition MPs, independent journalists, lawyers appearing against the government etc.


Citizens must help track down the killers

I am shocked and greatly grieved at the brutal killing of Mr. Lasantha Wickrematunge, a very popular and courageous journalist. He had been a long standing friend of mine. I have attended a number seminars along with him and his presentations had been very remarkable. On one occasion we spent more than a week together at a workshop on "Conflict Resolution" held in Austria.

This type of brutal murders are now on the increase. Where are we heading to? Is it not the responsibility of all of us, as citizens of this country, to help to track down the culprits responsible for this cowardly act? It is a shame on all of us, if the culprits are not arrested immediately and brought before the court of law and punished.

I convey my deepest sympathies to the members of the Wickrematunge family. May his soul rest in peace.

V. Anandasangaree,

President, TULF


Reporters Without Borders outraged

Reporters Without Borders is outraged by the murder of The unday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was shot dead by two men on a motorcycle as he drove to work.

Sri Lanka has lost one of its most talented, courageous and iconoclastic journalists, Reporters Without Borders said. "President Mahinda Rajapakse, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press. Sri Lanka’s image is badly sullied by this murder, which is an absolute scandal and must not go unpunished."

The press freedom organisation added: "The military victories in the north against the Tamil Tigers rebels must not be seen as a green light for death squads to sow terror among government critics, including outspoken journalists. The international community must do everything possible to halt such a political vendetta."

President Rajapakse called Wickrematunge a "terrorist journalist" during an interview with a Reporters Without Borders representative in Colombo, last October.

The attack on Wickrematunge occurred in rush-hour traffic about 100 metres from an air force checkpoint near one of the capital’s airports. The two assailants smashed the window of his car with a steel bar before shooting him at close range in the head, chest and stomach. He was rushed to a Colombo hospital where he died a few hours later.

The Sunday Leader’s outspoken style and coverage of shady business deals meant that Wickrematunge was often the target of intimidation attempts and libel suits. The most recent lawsuit was brought by the President’s brother, Gotabaya Rajapakse, who got a court to ban the newspaper from mentioning him for several weeks.

Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was also a lawyer, told Reporters Without Borders in an interview that his aim as a journalist was to "denounce the greed and lies of the powerful."

Sri Lanka was ranked 165th out of 173 countries in the Reporters Without Borders 2008 Press Freedom Index. This was the lowest ranking of any democratic country.

At least 14 media workers have been killed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2006. Others have been arbitrarily detained, tortured and allegedly disappeared while in the custody of security forces. More than 20 journalists have left the country in response to death threats.


An alarming deterioration of democracy — CPA

The Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) expresses its outrage and revulsion over the murder of the Editor in Chief of The Sunday Leader newspaper Mr. Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Mr. Wickrematunge was shot and seriously wounded by unknown persons while driving to work in a suburb of Colombo and was pronounced dead at around 2.15pm by hospital authorities.

Just over 48 hours after a major arson attack against private TV broadcaster MBC / MTV Networks that destroyed its Main Control Room and studios, this rampant violence against independent media demonstrates an alarming deterioration of democracy, the rule of law, the freedom of expression and dissent.

Tellingly, Sri Lanka has been repeatedly identified as one of the world’s most dangerous countries for independent journalists. This latest attack on one of Sri Lanka’s best known and most senior journalists confirms fears of a planned terror campaign against critical voices, conducted with complete impunity.

The legitimacy of the war against terror rests on government respecting the norms and values of democracy and human rights, of which the tolerance of criticism is a fundamental facet. Those responsible for this egregious violence are enemies of democracy and become terrorists themselves.


A tribute to Lasantha

By Nihal Sri Ameresekere

It was on the American Independence Day celebrations on July 4, 1995, that I first met Lasantha. Immediately thereafter, I believe at the behest of interested and affected parties, there were series of two page articles published in The Sunday Leader for nearly eight weeks on the Hilton Settlement signed in June 1995. I simply ignored what was written, though they were erroneous and misleading.

One day, Lasantha turned-up in my office, without any intimation, with a person well known to me. We had a very warm and friendly chat. I did not refer at all to such articles or ask why he wrote, without checking on the facts with me. My such silence and cordiality, I believe had an impact on Lasantha, resulting in him writing and publishing on his own volition, another series of two page articles over 10 weeks, clearing any misimpressions caused in the public domain by his previous articles.

Thereafter, on another day, Lasantha came to see me, and somehow persuaded me to write articles in the form of investigative journalism on questionable and dubious transactions, and on the subject of combating fraud and corruption in our country. Lasantha, himself, gave the pseudonym ‘Bismark’ for the articles.

The articles were written by me on some of the most scandalous transactions in the privatisation process, which has eroded completely public confidence in privatisation in our country, to the detriment of the economic development of our country.

I wrote the articles, without a break on a single Sunday, continuously for nearly two and a half years, providing Lasantha in advance articles when I was to be overseas. Lasantha repeatedly encouraged me, and confirmed that the articles were well received by the reading public. In fact, there were many occasions the articles received written commendations.

None of the facts in the articles were ever disputed or challenged by those persons involved, who had been transparently named. Lasantha never edited a single word of those articles, even though they sometimes concerned persons, he knew and associated with, both politically and otherwise. As a tribute to Lasantha, these articles ought be made available in the public domain.

I owe it to Lasantha’s encouragement and persuasion, which not only developed my communicative writing skills, but more importantly, it compelled me to study, examine and develop an intimate knowledge of the most dubious, scandalous, and some fraudulent, transactions perpetrated in our country, jeopardising public interest. Lasantha fully endorsed what was written.

The articles exposing fraud and corruption had no political undertones, whatsoever, and affected the entire political spectrum, as was endorsed by Lasantha. In fact, having ascertained my identity, the late Gamini Jayasuriya invited me to commend me on an article written on the 50 years of our country’s independence, on the socio-political and socio-economic mismanagement of our country.

Lasantha was an amazing person, with grit and courage. He bore no malice, and at the most was mischievous. He had the ability not only to write in the most incisive manner condemning fraudulent and corrupt transactions and those involved, whilst at the same time subsequently taking up the cause of those very persons, and defending their interests, thereby amply demonstrating that he did not bear personal or permanent grudges.

He was committed to write without fear or favour, what he believed was right, whether or not it affected persons, he knew or did not know. To him it was a passion to write in the public interest to combat fraud and corruption.

Though many may have not agreed with some of his writings, it has to be conceded, that he had the fearless courage to write and publish, for which he has paid dearly with his life. If ever there was a journalist in our country, feared by those fraudulent and corrupt of exposure, it was Lasantha.


Lasantha, my editor and friend

By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

Lasantha Wickrematunge was my editor and friend over the last one and a half decades. He was an intrepid fighter against corruption, partisan and plucky, mischievous always and Machiavellian sometimes, he dared to dissent and to push to the hilt the media’s contribution to a vibrant functioning democracy in Sri Lanka.

His murder leaves a huge void in the ranks of the defenders of democracy and human rights in this country. He was an example many admired, but which few have yet to emulate.

Lasantha was also one of a handful of people in the media who truly recognised and appreciated the inherent pluralism of Sri Lanka and the need to arrive at a new social contract, which would encompass the aspirations of all of the peoples of this country.

He ensured that his newspaper would have space for minority opinion and concerns when most were wittingly or unwittingly caught up in the majoritarianism of the day. Not for him the orthodoxy of the times, with its stifling stereotypes and biases.

His newspaper gave more space than any other to the plight of IDPs, to the carnage wrought by the war on combatant and civilian alike and to the need for a political and constitutional settlement of the ethnic conflict. His is the only paper that had the courage and conviction to publish an editorial exposing the hypocrisy and inhumanity of homophobia.

His killing is an egregious act of terrorism against democracy in our country. The greatest tribute to his life and work will be for his death to serve as the catalyst for a broad coalition against the terror and terrorists who threaten our freedom. This coalition must include the apathetic and unknowing and all those who read the Leader to salve their conscience and by doing so, avoid direct action.

As Lasantha always believed and as his life and work have demonstrated, there is never a good or auspicious time to act to arrest the slide into darkness. Democracy requires constant vigilance; it requires us in our country to do something about this darkness, NOW. No one should abstain; no one should believe that this is a duty that can be delegated.

I will miss the Monday morning call reminding me about my column and the chats about the challenges facing our country, the chuckles about the "good" and the "great," the whiff of scandal and the looming crises.

But most of all, I will miss an intrepid fighter like no other, in the fight to protect and strengthen the values we shared and without which our country will be doomed.

Lasantha, knowing you, remembering you will always help me, in the words from Tennyson’s Ulysees — to seek to strive to find, and not to yield.


I grieve for you fearless son of the soil

I grieve with Mother Lanka who lost yet another precious son; I grieve not only the loss of a truly courageous, talented and fearless son of the soil but for our beloved motherland herself. Welcome to the land of state terror, corruption and impunity!

It’s a shame on the incumbent government; barely a week since the so called ‘friend of the media’ took over the media the second gruesome carnage takes place in broad day light within a high security zone. How does the state explain trained sharp shooters on four identical black coloured powerful mobikes on a rampage in the city? How does the state disregard a team of trained mercenaries carrying T56, hand grenades and even claymores on a rampage in a national TV station which should have got the best of protection?

Isn’t it a pertinent question as to whose sins Lasantha was trying to expose during his last few days of his noble life? Isn’t it relevant to ask whether there was attempts to silence him by methods legal and otherwise? Is it of any relevance that the very press of this newspaper was attacked on two previous instances? Can the government account any responsible steps it has taken to bring the culprits to book? What is the progress of those investigations?

The state cannot shirk it’s responsibility in any way for either the attack on Sirasa or the loss of this precious life which is worth a billion times than the corrupt and shameless politicos who would go to any extent to cover up their sins. With so many threats looming large the state or the President cannot wash their hands off the pouring blood; particularly as the Commander-in -Chief of the tri forces it is his onerous responsibility to ensure the safety of the citizens at large, specially those at globally known risk.

Iraq, move out, we have clearly outdone you, terror-wise! Is this the Sri Lankan/Sinhalese way of celebration causing carnage to people and property in the name of ‘humane operations?’ Terrorising the south because the north is supposedly recapped? Do you want us to believe that there is a force even beyond your control Mr.President?

What actions do you propose to take to ensure the safety of the journalists and other precious lives at risk? Are only the lives of those meat balls at Diyawannawa and Colombo 3, precious? When will you liberate us southerners Mr. President? Are you aware that these deaths too cause sorrow to beloved parents, wives, children, friends and relatives? What action does the state propose to take to ensure non-recurrence?

Lasantha Wickrematunge, I salute you great Sir, for the courage, determination and unblemished integrity you held , to the very last breath. The sad truth remains that the investigative journalism in Sri Lanka from today onwards will be but a dead letter.

No one, yes no one will be able to fill your worthy shoes. You would have been a honoured billionaire celebrity if only you gave up the motherland or your untouched integrity; but you did not and here you are. I express my deep sorrow and solidarity to the bereaved family and to the saddened nation.

My thoughts and prayers are with you. The loss is indeed ours. May the good man attain nibbana and may this warrior be reborn to slay the many dragons that will be stalking the motherland. Until then may you rest in peace Honourable Sir.  

Asiri Aravinda


Assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge

I write to record my sense of outrage at the murder of this outstandingly brave man who has done so much to expose that which a succession of governments have been trying to conceal. It is clear that the politico-military junta that has the temerity to call itself a ‘Government’ will stop at nothing.

It is time for the Sinhalese in the south to hit the streets and bring Colombo to a halt and make it ungovernable. That is the only way to bring an end to this tyrannical regime which is even worse than the regime of my cousin, Chandrika Kumaratunga. I thought her regime was terrible. When one of her senior ministers said that it was time ‘to take out an Editor or two,’ and she took no action against him, she was setting a very dangerous precedent.  I did not realise that the regime to follow was worse, much worse.

In the (dozen) DVDs I have recorded and distributed internationally, I said that "Today it is the Tamils, tomorrow it will be the Sinhalese." The murder of Lasantha, shows that ‘tomorrow’ has arrived. It is not a coincidence that with the Media Minister taking over on January 1, 2009, a week later an independent TV station is extensively damaged, and three days later the Editor of one of the few credible newspapers is murdered.

In the numerous addresses on Sri Lanka I have given across the world in the past 25 years, I have repeatedly quoted Pastor Niemoller’s famous poem describing the dangers of political inactivity: "First they came for the Communists, I did not speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, I did not speak up because I was not a trade unionist, Then they came for the Jews, I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak up for me."

I am calling on my fellow Sinhalese to get out on the streets in their thousands until this barbaric regime running (or rather, ruining) Sri Lanka, comes to an end, and the country is saved from a fascist dictatorship and a Failed State. If this is done, Lasantha would not have died in vain

Brian Senewiratne

Australia


Citizens must act to end the terror in the south

It was with much sadness that I learnt of the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Editor of The Sunday Leader. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and staff at this sad time. Those responsible for this heinous crime are nothing but cowards and are a disgrace to all law abiding Sri Lankan citizens.

This killing comes fast on the heals on the attack carried out at MTV a few days ago—its clearly an attack on the freedom of the press and the right of the people to be informed of opposing views. Lasantha Wickrematunge stood for truth and justice — I had the pleasure of meeting him and we did have our heated debates and I enjoyed our discussion and I shall miss those occasions.

Sri Lanka is a dangerous place for a journalist as many face intimidations, threats, abductions and killings—some are incarcerated without trial. The electronic media operate under constant threat of having their licenses revoked unless they toe the government line.

It is in this context that the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge should be viewed. No right thinking person can condone such intolerance because it is a degradation of society and is a threat to us all—we must condemn the elements of a system that allows for such deaths or attacks to take place and provides refuge to culprits of such heinous crimes that as citizens we must put an end too or else we shall all perish.

Sri Lanka is heading for a dictatorship and we the Sinhalese are a fickle lot — the President has a disdain for his own people, Sinhala modaya stereotype, who vote like idiots and who have to live with the leaders it elects. With rampant corruption and maladministration which this regime has ushered—hardship the people are facing, the only thing going for the President is the war where the armed forces are making steady progress in LTTE held areas and the President can count on the Sinhala modaya to give him the mandate he needs.

The Sinhala modaya bemoans the cost of living but the President has shown his utter contempt for the people when he reduced after much pressure the housing allowance to his jumbo cabinet ministers from Rs 100,000 to Rs 50,000 — what was needed was a reduction in the size of the cabinet to 14 which would have saved tax payers’ money.

Some ministers are nothing but bloodsucking parasites—not forgetting the President’s globe trotting with an entourage amounting to 100s has contributed to his inflated ego which shows no sign of diminishing. The President has gone on record instructing the Police Chief Jayantha Wickremaratne to conduct a full investigation into the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge but he said the same after the attack on MTV.

Answers are needed to the questions raised as there is a lack of confidence on the police to conduct such an investigation and bring those responsible to justice going by past experiences.

The President is currently popular but already their is a debate going on questioning the government’s ability to govern with its rampant corruption. Sri Lankan society watches in disdain and its political and social entities that refuse to remedy such injustices take upon itself the responsibility of removing the faith it places on truth and justice; both elements that Lasantha Wickrematunge stood for and paid dearly with his life.

C. Silva


Farewell Lasantha

"You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind."

—Mahatma Gandhi

Dear family, colleagues and friends of Lasantha,

All ethnicities of Sri Lankans in London are outraged by the shocking news of the assassination of Lasantha who has been so outspoken for so long that not only the present regime but the previous regimes also have been harassing him.

He has been a great strength to all those who oppose injustice of all forms.

This is an irreparable loss to his family, friends, colleagues, readers, Sri Lankans in and outside Sri Lanka and the journalists around the world and the international community.

This is surely the beginning of the end of the present regime.

P. Selvaratnam


Speak and write against war

It is with great regret that I read this evening on BBC South Asian news of the murder of your editor. My thoughts are with his family, colleagues and friends.

I would like to convey my support for all those brave people in Sri Lanka who continue to reflect, to speak and to write against war, despite anonymous threats intended to induce conformity and prejudice.

I had not previously heard of your paper. I shall turn to it in future when I am looking for examples of investigative reporting and resistance to bullying.

I was born in the year of the buffalo. I laughed at the call to the buffalo followers and shivered at the reference to a European leader 80 years ago.

Chris Brooke Smith

England


Retribution will come

We Sri Lankans working in the Maldives were shocked to hear of the shooting of Lasantha Wickrematunge. At this moment our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and all of you at Leader Publications.

He led a daring team of journalists without fear to expose what is wrong. A wrong is wrong and nothing can make it right as MR, his brothers and his followers try to project. Criticism of their actions against human rights violations and media freedom and exposure of corruption has been an anathema. No cabinet meeting could be closed without bringing the names The Sunday Leader and Lasantha Wickrematunge into it.

"What goes around, comes around" maybe the Chinthana clan hasn’t heard about it. The nation needs Lasantha and his brave, gutty and daring team. And the Lord said "Retribution is mine."

We pray for his speedy recovery.

Eardley Perera

Maldives


Words may mean very little at a time like this

To the wonderful colleagues of the late Lasantha Wickrematunge’s Editorial Team and all staff of Leader Publications, the whole civilised world expresses their sorrow on your loss of a wonderful colleague, leader, and exemplary journalist.  You will know of Lasantha’s abilities and strengths better than anyone else and we can only express our sorrow at your loss.

The whole civilised world sympathises with you on this sad, sad loss.  We pray that you be blessed with the strength to bear this indescribable sorrow, and to move on, in time, to living in the great shadow of a truly brave, honest and wonderful human being, and a journalist par excellence, who truly lived the motto he adopted for his newspaper ‘unbowed and unafraid.’ 

It’s one thing to say that the events of this week mark the certain end of a foolish and brutal government, but it’s quite another thing to accept the fact that the country is the lesser for the absence of people like Lasantha Wickrematunge, who fulfilled the role of the fourth estate with such aplomb, that they truly symbolised the essence of the role of the press in a modern democracy.

To those who do not respect this fact, no condemnation will do, for, they are a mighty insult to humanity and civilised society everywhere.

One news item stated that the staff of the Leader Publications who were present at the Kalubowila Hospital left before they knew of Lasantha’s fate because they had to get the newspaper out.  This spirit is acclaimed by all and we hope that this spirit and the high standards inspired by Lasantha will sustain you in the future.  Though little consolation, this way one may say that Lasantha’s life was truly meaningful to the advancement of democracy in Lanka.

Panduka Dassanayake

 


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