Murder most foul and a Govt. running scared
Rajapakse, Palitha Kohona,
IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne
and Lasantha Wickrematunge
While the government attempted to drown out
the cries of outrage and sounds of weeping
over the brutal murder of The Sunday Leader
Editor-in-Chief Lasantha Wickrematunge with
the pounding of bombs in the north, its
claims of victory on the military front may
now not be enough to hold the regime
Hours after news of Lasantha's murder rocked
the entire country, government ministers and
other SLFPers were already jittery,
privately blaming the government for its
failure to stop a dangerous trend within the
country culminating with this brutal
killing. Some UNP crossers over were visibly
angry at the government's failure to address
the culture of impunity that had gripped the
nation stating they had not crossed over to
nurture this kind of break down of rule of
As the shocking news of Lasantha's murder
reached parliament last Thursday morning (8)
the corridors were filled with those
decrying the deed as a foul and despicable
Yet quickly the exigencies of political
survival would kick in. Lasantha was a
journalist who had a wide range of contacts
from across the political divide. Albeit
this wide circle of friends and
acquaintances dotted in their hundreds in
the national and international political
milieu the body language of the ruling
regime following his murder was
uncomfortable and distant at best.
Hardly any government minister save for a
smattering of those UNP crossers over, felt
it politically expedient to pay their last
respects to a man who had stood up for the
rights of all during his rich life.
But for the tremendous crowds that did come,
the realisation was clear. That at no time
before had they lived through more
frightening times. From the spontaneity with
which passers joined the massive protest
procession it was evident that at least in
that moment of emotion, these massive crowds
had joined for one shining moment the
journey traversed by one man. A colossus in
his time. A man who had no fear.
Certainly if there was ever a time for the
establishment to get rid of the nuisance
that is Lasantha Wickrematunge, then this
time was that time. The government was
pushing forward on the military front
capturing large swathes of territory while
the LTTE retreated to the jungles of
Mullaitivu. Drunk with power and buoyed up
by a wave of optimism over the war,
Lasantha's murderers - whoever they maybe -
could take false comfort in the knowledge
that the current military successes could be
effectively used to soften the impact of
such an outrageous and high profile
Yes. Lasantha's funeral was not attended by
the entire government despite many of its
members including President Rajapakse
admittedly being closely associated with
And one could hardly expect a peep about the
assassination from Lasantha's friend
President Rajapakse even today as he
delivers a political speech at the UPFA's
first propaganda rally of the upcoming
Provincial Council election in Matale.
It would be the first public rally to be
addressed by the President after the recent
military successes in the north and the
government will continue to sell the war and
ride on this wave of euphoria that is being
fueled by government propaganda machines as
it drowns out the voices of dissent and the
sounds of justice.
Claims of friendship
Immediately after Lasantha's death,
Rajapakse went on every possible television
channel to demonstrate his close proximity
to the Editor - President Mahinda Rajapakse
said he had been invited to Lasantha's
wedding on December 27, 2008 and had even
invited the newly weds to Temple Trees for a
meal. An invitation he claimed they had
Just last Wednesday (14) President Mahinda
Rajapakse at a media heads and publishers
meeting especially convened for the purpose
was to even accuse The Sunday Leader Editor
Lasantha Wickrematunge of being an
According to the President, Lasantha had
told him Karu Jayasuriya was quitting the
government and joining the UNP. However
sources close to Lasantha said Jayasuriya's
crossing over was no secret at the time it
was revealed and that Lasantha had mentioned
it in passing during an informal chat with
Rajapakse in the presence of Dr. Eliyantha
White and another businessman.
While President Rajapakse - a man who has
been called a cabinet reporter himself by
former President Chandrika Kumaratunga finds
solace in such innocuous banter, and
attempts to tarnish the character of the
slain editor in a desperate attempt to
demonstrate Lasantha's value as a friend and
informant he had yet failed to provide any
evidence of a recording or CD to
substantiate his claims.
Neither is Lasantha alive to prove or
disprove these statements but in his finest
work which would alas be his last he
predicted his own death. His final editorial
titled 'And Then They Came For Me.' in the
space of 10 days came to be known as the
'Letter from the Grave' - it has become one
of the most viewed and most emailed articles
in the world.
In it Lasantha says, "It is well known that
I was on two occasions brutally assaulted,
while on another my house was sprayed with
machine-gun fire. Despite the government's
sanctimonious assurances, there was never a
serious police inquiry into the perpetrators
of these attacks, and the attackers were
never apprehended. In all these cases, I
have reason to believe the attacks were
inspired by the government. When finally I
am killed, it will be the government that
Under your watch
Lasantha continues addressing President
Rajapakse, "You will never be allowed to
forget that my death took place under your
watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I
also know that you will have no choice but
to protect my killers: you will see to it
that the guilty one is never convicted. You
have no choice. I feel sorry for you."
It is true that Lasantha and Mahinda
Rajapakse had been friends for over 20
years. But it was only recently that the two
had begun meeting again - and that too at
the insistence of Rajapakse.
Lasantha never went for the monthly editors
meetings convened by the President's Office
but for the last couple of months before his
death he had visited the President's House
for dinner - in the presence of two friends.
Lasantha was at first apprehensive about
this Presidential call to a rapprochement
but later relented.
Be that as it may, on the morning of
Thursday, January 8, President Rajapakse was
busy with meetings at Temple Trees. At a
meeting of four associations related to the
coconut industry the President had been
talking with key industrialists about the
problems facing them in the present economic
The meeting was attended by the Coconut
Product Exporters Association, the Coir
Products Association, the Horticultural
Exporters' Association and the Poultry
Association where representatives of these
bodies were making presentations setting out
the current problems facing exporters.
While the Coconut Product Association
presentation was being made by its
representatives Rajapakse was to get a phone
call. He would listen attentively
interjecting only once to say 'oluwatada
wedune' before terminating the call.
Immediately assuming the matter related to
the military drive in the north and
wondering if the President would be in a
mood to continue with a coconut exporters'
presentation the representative asked 'Can I
continue Sir?' at which time Rajapakse told
him to please continue his presentation.
In fact when a representative from the
Poultry Association observed during the
meeting that due to certain constraints they
were better off doing business in Singapore,
Rajapakse was to say jokingly 'then we
should send you to Singapore.'
However when it was time to ask questions
President Rajapakse had told those present,
'I'm hungry, aren't you'll hungry let's go
out and eat.'
Those at the meeting and President Rajapakse
then went out of the meeting room to the
Temple Trees dining room to partake of
presidential victuals. Having escorted the
attendees outside, Rajapakse was to go into
his office and they were informed the
meeting was over.
It was only when the representatives of the
Coconut Exporters Associations had come out
of Temple Trees and collected their
confiscated mobile phones that they realised
Lasantha Wickrematunge had been fatally
That was not the only meeting President
Rajapakse would attend that morning. He was
also scheduled to meet with bankers and
representatives of small and medium
industries which he would do. Again
Rajapakse was seen to receive two calls
which he answered and then continued with
the meeting at hand.
Be that as it well may, medical sources at
Kalubowila reveal that at the time Lasantha
was brought into the OPD that Thursday
morning his pulse was a low 43, he had
dilated pupils and his right ear was oozing
It was some time after crack medical teams
had started to work on Lasantha that Dr.
Eliyantha White had walked in to the
hospital. He had informed a close family
member that Lasantha had in fact called him
that morning on his way to office to tell
him that he was being followed and to convey
this message to President Rajapakse.
White was supposedly a herbal medicine man
somewhat well regarded among certain
politicians and also President Rajapakse.
White had informed this family member that
he had immediately called the President but
the President had been otherwise occupied in
the Budu Ge (Shrine Room) for about 45
minutes. When the President returned his
call, Eliyantha had told this family member,
'The deed had already been done.'
Meanwhile Lasantha was in the Emergency Unit
of the Kalubowila Hospital with an injury to
his head. We already know from eyewitness
accounts that his car was surrounded by
assailants on four dark hued motorbikes.
We know that the windows of both the
drivers' side and the passenger side had
been smashed. We know that a witness had
allegedly seen one of the assailants on the
passenger side of the car pulling out a
weapon of sorts - likely a heavy metal pole
wrapped in a newspaper and smashing it into
the head of Lasantha.
Lasantha according to police sources may
have fallen onto the passenger seat sideways
when he was attacked from the drivers' side
of the car.
Base of skull fracture
From the injury on the skull medical sources
who do not wish to be named say the metal
pole may have had at its lethal end two
sharp points driven into it. Lasantha also
suffered a base of skull fracture due to
pressure from within.
Police sources say that two noises were
heard during the attack but they did not
sound like gunshots. Police sources so far
allegedly claim that spent cartridges have
not been found.
The government has rejected calls to bring
in a team of international experts to
investigate the killing of Sunday Leader
Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, saying the
Sri Lanka Police were capable of conducting
the investigation themselves.
This is even as elements in the government
like the JHU put forward absurd claims of
CIA conspiracies relating to the murder.
Meanwhile, the police are said to be
conducting a separate investigation to
ascertain whether there is a link between
the recent attack on the MTV/MBC studio in
Pannipitiya and the assassination of
However these crack local police teams so
far have said they have no leads in either
investigation, but were analysing
fingerprints found at the two scenes. DIG
Prasanna Nanayakkara is in charge of two
teams the government says is working on the
And even as the government is on the one
hand publicising the war and trumpeting its
victories to drown out the cries for justice
over Lasantha on the other hand it is
quickly building up bogus conspiracy
theories to point fingers elsewhere not only
over Lasantha's assassination but also on
the attack on MTV/MBC two days before
Lasantha was killed.
IGP Jayantha Wickremaratne sources say have
had several conferences with investigation
teams on the subject while reliable sources
said the authorities had also called for the
files of Richard de Zoysa and other
journalists killed during the UNP era to use
in a political debate over the killing of
Lasantha rather than focus on bringing the
culprits to book.
The government has also gone into panic mode
for the same reason. The Dean of the
Diplomatic Corps in Colombo German
Ambassador Juergen Weerth was sharply
criticised and summoned Tuesday (12) by
Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona for
delivering a funeral oration at Lasantha's
funeral on Monday. It did not matter that
the contents of his short speech were
uncontroversial and indeed appropriate.
Foreign Secretary Palitha Kohona expressed
the government's displeasure in private but
the Ministry leaked the news to the media
right away Foreign Ministry sources said.
Weerth in his oration said inter alia, "It
is a day where words do not count anymore.
It is a day where one remains speechless and
one has to say something. Maybe we should
have raised our voice before.
"Today it is too late. It is a day when
humanity has lost a major voice of
truth...But what remains is his legacy and
what he meant to each of us.
Let us honour his work, his courage and his
example. As Dean of the Diplomatic Corps may
I extend our deepest condolences to the
family, the staff of The Sunday Leader and
all here who have had the privilege to call
Lasantha a friend as have I."
Given the outpouring of public support for
Lasantha's cause it was also a day the
government was to feel at its lowest and at
its most vulnerable.
And it is this response by the government
that gives rise to public concern regarding
the objectivity of the government when
conducting investigations into Lasantha's
Many steps that even to a layman should
perhaps have been taken seem to have not.
Although the types of motorcycles the
assassins used have been identified by
witnesses no public appeal has been made to
establish their whereabouts. Though there is
reason to believe that the nature of the
murder weapon is known no description of it
has yet been published calling for
information from the public who may know who
possessed or manufactured such a weapon.
These are matters that need to be clarified
even as it is important to see that the
investigation into Lasantha's murder does
not in any way follow in the path of the
investigation into the murder on New Guinean
Rugby Player Joel Pera.
It is vital that the government for its own
survival - whether it is a fair perception
or otherwise - is not seen to be embarking
on both a cover up and a campaign to confuse
the evidence so as to secure an acquittal
even if the murderers are eventually
And if Lasantha lay bleeding on a hospital
table January 8 morning the government was
busy trying to hush it up. Minister Dulles
Alahapperuma was to call up some media
houses and advise them to lie low on the
issue. That evening on the Rathu Ira
programme UNP MP Jayalath Jayawardena, a
guest on the show was asked by one of the
producers to not touch on the slaying of
Lasantha Wickrematunge but to stick to the
agreed subject of provincial council
The main evening news bulletin of the
government owned Independent Television
Network made no mention of the killing of
Lasantha on Thursday night even though it
was obviously the top story of the day. The
other state media barely made mention of it
merely using it as a filler at best.
With national and international support
pouring in for the Editor the government now
resorted to desperate damage control.
President Rajapakse on hearing the Editors
were planning to carry a common lead story
on the assassination was to even call the
Sunday Times Chairman Ranjith Wijewardena on
the matter to have it stopped.
Alliances in a common cause
Meanwhile the broad opposition front, civil
society and women's organisations were never
more bonded to one common cause than after
Lasantha's brutal assassination.
UNP's Jayalath Jayawardena had already taken
steps to write to the Commonwealth
Parliamentary Association and the
International Press Union to muster support
for a more concerted campaign against the
culture of impunity cultivated by the
NGOs, civil society, professionals and
businessmen will next Tuesday (20) meet to
set up a broad front for the Right to Live
and The Freedom of Expression.
Last Wednesday (14) a group of about 35
people met at Opposition Leader Ranil
Wickremesinghe's Cambridge Terrace office to
prepare a framework for future action.
Wickremesinghe had come out all guns firing
slamming the government for the attacks on
the MTV/MBC Station and the assassination of
Lasantha Wickrematunge, alleging an elite
killer squad within the security
establishment was behind the attacks.
Given the outrage generated across the
island over the brutal events of last week
it would seem that the government though
winning on the military front may not be
doing so on all other fronts.