The Sunday Leader

Unbowed And Unafraid For 22 Years And Still Going

The Sunday Leader is 22 years old today. The 22-year-old saga of this newspaper will no doubt go to make a part of the contemporary history of Sri Lanka. It is the story of an independent newspaper braving all odds at a time the country was being ravaged by a terrorist conflict to protect civil liberties, expose blunders, corruption and chicanery of its leaders while protecting the sovereignty of its people.

This passage in time of the country’s history would not have been possible if not to the spirit of its founding editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, expressed so eloquently under our front page masthead: Unbowed and Unafraid.Twenty two years ago this English language newspaper entered a crowded market place and newspaper skeptics gave the founders, the Wickrematuge brothers, Lasantha and Lal (who managed the business affairs), a snowball’s chance in hell for survival.

Its success was the basic editorial policy of this journal: pursuit of the truth and truth was indeed a very rare commodity in the newspaper market then and even today.

Seekers of the truth since biblical times found the going very hard, at times even sacrificing their lives. Those of The Sunday Leader faced many threats and obstacles. Lasantha Wickrematunge made the Supreme Sacrifice.

This is not to say that Leader journalists fancied themselves as knights in shining armour going in search of the holy grail. They were just journalists with only pen or camera in hand going in search of a story. And search they did as true professionals to find answers to the five elementary queries of a reporter: Who, What, Where, When and Why.

They were not hoping to be macho Hollywood heroes.

When those ‘Palas’ and ‘Bandas without a cent in their pockets, who found themselves propelled into seats of power by stupid voters breathed fire and thunder at our reporters, they took it quite calmly for even a blackguarding provided a good story. When they were brutally attacked openly, they could only protest to the police who immediately promised complete investigations that never took place. When charged before courts, at times they found justice. When abducted in White Vans and even killed, their families could only weep.

The inspiration for this undaunted professionalism came from a frail smiling editor who took verbal and physical threats calmly even when threatened with death.

Scarcely one year after the first publication of this paper, Wickrematunge was assaulted by thugs. Soon after in February 1995 Wickrematunge was pulled out of his car while going to his home at Nugegoda with his wife and once again attacked. In June 1998 his home was riddled by bullets from automatic gun fire. In September 2000 he was found guilty of criminally defaming President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge and given a suspended jail sentence.

And so  the saga of  Wickrematunge – intrepid journalism amidst abuse, threats, assaults, legal prosecutions continued with his killing on January 8, 2009.

But the saga of The Sunday Leader, his creation continues. Frederica Jansz who succeeded Lasantha continued undaunted in his footsteps till the majority shares of the company passed into hands of pro- government sources and Frederica fled the country.

Journalists of The Sunday Leader continued to face threats even after that. Five men entered the residence of Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema (then Associate Editor and the Editor-in- Chief of the Leader today), held her at knife point for hours. Police presumed it was an intended burglary but journalists believe it was a threat, directed to her investigative reporting of certain business deals.

with the Yahapalanaya government taking over in January last year journalists no longer look over their shoulders for the fear of White Vans or guns but they cannot relax. A strict and alert media watch has to be kept on the coalition government as well as a section of the Opposition hell bent on bringing back a regime that was responsible for suppression of most freedoms particularly media freedom.

The Leader rededicates itself to defend the fundamental rights of all people and hopes that its exposures can help eliminate corruption which is still very much with us. Our exposures have brought to light many corrupt activities in the private and public sectors.

There is much corruption and conspiracies to be exposed despite a new government being in place. A case in point is that Lasantha Wickrematunge’s killers have still not been brought to book. This is a killing that took place on a bright sunny morning seven years ago on a public highway and made known to political and security chiefs within minutes of the event. Despite all the repeated assurances given over and over again during the Rajapaksa regime, our crack investigators have been found to be flat footed. Investigations made under the new government have headed in new directions but appear to be meeting political resistance on the basis of protection of ‘war heroes’.

No man is a hero of any kind, who brutally kills an unarmed journalist driving to work. There obviously has been a deep seated conspiracy behind the killing, which the previous regime is attempting to entomb in political concrete.

Justice, like charity, should begin at home and it is our bounden duty to see that justice is done to our founder editor.

Meanwhile it will be our endeavour to see that the rights and freedoms of all people including the rights of estranged minorities are protected from power hungry demagogues.

 

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