Fresh Call For Justice At Lasantha’s Memorial
by Ashanthi Warunasuriya
Eight years have passed since veteran journalist and the founding editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper Lasantha Wickrematunge was assassinated in broad daylight.
The assassins were able to carry out their task and pass through the heavily guarded security check points in the Dehiwala area without facing any obstacles.
Following the 2015 Presidential election the government assured that it will bring to justice those who are responsible for Lasantha’s assassination.
However the progress in the investigations seen over the past two years has suddenly slowed down.
According to Attorney At Law Athula Ranagala, who is appearing in the case, said some investigations reports have not even been submitted to court.
A memorial to mark the death anniversary of Lasantha Wickrematunge was held at his graveside at the Borella Cemetery last Sunday and was attended by his relatives, friends, political and social figures, journalists and civil society representatives.
“At present there is still faith among us about the judiciary. Therefore we were able to struggle for years against the attempts of the authorities to push this case into the bin. When the previous government was in power the TID was handling the investigation. But due to the independence of the judiciary, we were finally able to get the CID to investigate the matter. Therefore the investigations started coming back to the right track. We are glad that the CID has been carrying out the investigation work in a positive manner. They even were able to collect eye witness accounts. As a result a military intelligence officer was taken into custody. But unfortunately he has been charged with abducting Lasantha’s driver. Many wondered as to why he was given bail. It was because he was not charged with the involvement of the murder case but for an abduction. If he was charged with murder then the case would have taken a different turn by now. At that time I requested from court not to give him bail. If there are suspects who have been involved in the initial or post stages of a crime, they could be linked to the crime. But unfortunately it did not happen in this case,” Attorney At Law Athula S. Ranagala said at the event held near Lasantha’s graveside.
He said the investigating officers took great effort to receive the necessary reports from the intelligence units in the case and when the internal intelligence report was produced before court it was revealed that all the records about the daily routine and the issuing of weapons had been misplaced,” he said.
“At that time a person who had committed suicide was found with a note claiming that it was him who had killed Lasantha. This was highly suspicious. But even at this stage the investigation was not stepped up. Recently the remains of Lasantha were also exhumed for further investigations. But the reports are still being delayed. They have not yet reached the court. But still we are optimistic about the end result. We hope that the CID would soon produce the necessary evidence to find out the true culprits of this murder,” he said.
Sandya Eknaligoda, wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, said that there was at least a place for Lasantha to place some flowers, light a candle and commemorate but she is still not aware of the whereabouts of her husband.
“If only justice is served for Lasantha, Prageeth and Raviraj, this country would become a peaceful place to live. It is only then that this country would be a better place for all journalists to live in.”
Meanwhile, expressing his views regarding the matter, Minister Mano Ganeshan, who is a member of the government, said that he was ashamed as a Minister to witness the investigations progressing at a snail’s pace.
“Even under the Yahapalana government we have still not been unable to bring the culprits who are responsible for the assassination of Lasantha to book. How could we remove the bad name that has been stuck to our police and armed forces? We must punish the true culprits. I am angry and sad about this issue,” he said. Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake said that the state of the investigations will be raised in cabinet.
“But we can clearly say that we are not allowing anyone to throw this case under the rug once again. We will somehow find the true culprits and produce them before court to be sentenced in a democratic manner,” he said.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera said that the authorities must also look into the fact that the Sirasa Media institution was also bombed the day before Lasantha was assassinated.
“The government has taken steps to reopen many cases such as the murder of Lasantha during the past two years that has been hidden under the files during the Rajapaksa regime. But considering the number of investigations that are going on there is no surprise as to the delay. “ However speaking at the gathering, Professor Sarath Wijesuriya said that none of the crimes including the murders of Lasantha, Wasim Thajudeen and Nadaraja Raviraj as well as the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, could have happened without the knowledge of the then government.
However even after two years since the current government had reopened the investigations, no suspect has been found with a clear link to the incident. Even the military intelligence officer who was arrested on suspicion in connection to the incident was later released.
A similar result was seen in the case of Prageeth Eknaligoda where 14 military officers who were arrested in suspicion of his disappearance were released within a short period of time.
While some criticised the arrest of the army soldiers claiming that it is unfair to accuse the armed forces, on February 17 last year the police released facial drawings of two suspects related to Lasantha’s murder.
In September the remains of Lasantha’s body were exhumed for further investigation. Within a month a person committed suicide leaving a suspicious note claiming that he was responsible for the murder, but still the investigations have not produced any successful results.
However, it is the wish of all those who yearn for justice in this country that the government should take steps to uncover the true culprits behind this murder. It would be an honour that could be bestowed upon Lasantha, who had been a true believer of justice, even at the face of death. Even after being shot Lasantha tried to speak before his death but fate did not let him to do so. If he had been able to do so, then things would have been different by now. He was shot within 48 hours after the Sirasa Media complex was bombed by an unidentified gang. It was at that time he made his last statement to media. Even then he insisted that justice must be served against the attackers. He requested all the journalists to band together to fight against these atrocities. After a decade, we are still trying to make his wish come true.
Lasantha’s brother Lal Wickrematunge, in a statement read at the event on Sunday, said that eight years is a long time for a murder investigation to be concluded.
“Lasantha’s murder was a high profile targeted killing. It was premeditated murder though some said that murder was not intended. Who would believe that given the nature of the attack and the modus operandi. For over six years the investigation was kept under wraps with a definite purpose. It is obvious that this vacillation was by an interested group acting to safeguard not only those who carried out a murder most foul, but also to cover up for those who gave such order,” he said.
Lal Wickrematunge said that Lasantha stood for some principles steadfastly and not many in high political office could accept those principles. He said many powerful people tried justify his murder by labelling him as a traitor, a double agent and even as a spy.
“Recently the social media has been privy to leaked telephone conversations between Lasantha and the now defeated former President. Efforts are being made to show that Lasantha taped such conversations. His powerful voice from the grave was heard after his murder. Why would he wish to be heard now? But I digress. The taped conversations echo the principles that Lasantha stood for. Lasantha comes out lily- white in those taped conversations. If these were leaked for some other purpose only such person or persons could guess what advantage they would have gained by such leaks,” he said.
Lal Wickrematunge noted that Sri Lanka is a better place to practice journalism now. Yet, the past must not be forgotten nor revisited.
“Just as much as how the fraternity reacted when the draconian Criminal Defamation was repealed, politicians may have to bear for a while for journalists to settle down to practice their profession with responsibility. The investigations into the murders, disappeared and abducted journalists must be pursued with vigour. Our nation’s history must not record such events as acts to be unfortunate and hence be forgotten. The families of the victims need closure. Our country must deliver on that score to move forward. The journalistic fraternity must not rest nor forget their brethren who paid such a huge price upon which they now enjoy freedom to follow their profession,” he said.
Lal Wickrematunge said that Lasantha’s legacy will live on, much longer and louder than those who ordered his murder.