We have just completed the tenth anniversary of the assassination of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge. A decade after this political brutality under a government with a bloody record of such violence against society, media freedom and democracy, we still await the killers of Lasantha, and those who wanted it done, caught in the clasps of the law.
The failure to bring the killers of Lasantha to justice is one of the biggest failures, or rather the largest political hoax, of the presidency and government elected in January and August 2015, with a huge promise to restore democracy and bring the violators of the law to justice. It is a crooked hoax for which all parties of the so-called yahapalanaya cannot escape responsibility.
There is good talk today about the presence of an independent judiciary, unlike what we had in the recent past. There is also a commendable initiative on provisions for the Right to Information, which need further improvement. But the continued failure to bring the killers of Lasantha Wickrematunge before the law raises serious doubts about this government’s trust in an independent judiciary and its deeper respect for the Right to Information.
This applies to the rival leaders of today’s government – President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.
The dragging on of the probe into Lasantha’s killing, just like the continued mockery of the promise to expose and bring to justice the corrupt members of the previous Rajapaksa Regime, shows this government – both in unity and division – has no interest in such support for democracy, the right to information and a genuine free media.
The reality today is that the Lasantha killers, and its plotter/s, will remain buried in the dirty sands of time. It is time now for the public to raise a loud and determined call at least to bring to justice those associated with the cover-up of this crime to justice, with the considerable evidence already available about their criminal misdeeds to distort the process of justice relating to this crime of political power.
Why not begin legal proceedings against that Judicial Medical Officer at the Kalubowila Hospital who carried out the post-mortem into Lasantha’s death, and reported it was from gunshot injuries? This finding has been found to be untrue by three medical experts who conducted the subsequent examination after Lasantha’s body was exhumed in 2018 and found he was killed by a sharp lethal instrument in close quarters, and not by any gunshot injury. Is this JMO not subject to action from members of his own profession too, for making such a glaringly false report? The public will certainly like action against such criminal falsehoods by members of the medical profession.
There is plenty of evidence available that the Police has been deliberately misled by its own personnel in the Lasantha killing probe. Why not initiate action within the Police and before the law, against the police officer/s, whatever their rank, who destroyed the recordings in the Police Report Books on the initial probes into Lasantha’s killing, and had these pages replaced. Senior officers of the police have been arrested and detained on this matter and later bailed out. Why not initiate separate legal and police departmental action against such persons who have clearly violated departmental regulations, especially on a matter relating to a murder? The public will also be glad to know of such disciplinary and legal action in a matter involving a murder, and especially that of journalist and editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.
What of that note book where Lasantha himself noted down the numbers of the two motor cycles that were trailing him, just before that fatal attack on him? Why not initiate disciplinary action against the officer/s who were responsible for the ‘vanishing’ of this note book, that has been recorded seen at the scene of the crime?
Why cannot any action be taken against those in charge of and involved with the Tripoli Platoon of the Army who have been associated, with good evidence, in the Lasantha killing and the earlier abduction and torture of journalist Keith Noyahr? All of those associated with crimes against two journalists remain free, with alleged gross abuse of weapons, vehicles and little-known calls for accountability.
The murderers of Lasantha Wickrematunge and the plotter/s behind it would never be found in the continuing pattern of distortion of the law and the process of police investigation, under this regime of democratic distortion, posing off as a defender of democracy. It has lost all claims to the search for the crooked and corrupt that it promised in the campaigns for the Presidential and General Elections in 2015.
The record of the last four years is one of complete shelter for the crooked. Ministers in charge of Justice, and Law and Order, in this so-called yahapalanaya have been the pathfinders for crooked escape. It is made even worse by the leaders of the two political parties and alliances that have led this government – the UNP and the UPFA with SLFP. Their support for democracy, and especially genuine Media Freedom has been a mockery of the people who voted for them. The mockery continues each day with the interest in the size of the Cabinet, or the shift from the Constitution or the next General Election.
The Judiciary of this country did save democracy and the Rule of Law in its judgements on the Constitutional Crisis that emerged from the night of October 26, 2018. But the political practitioners of government are showing no sign whatever of a genuine interest in the strengthening and growth of democracy, and even less of genuine Media Freedom.
As a journalist who worked very closely with Lasantha Wickrematunge, with much agreement and disagreement too, I am sad to see this hunt for his killers and its plotter/s being dragged into the oblivion of an undemocratic future. What I now seek is some relief at least with action against those who clearly sought to disrupt, twist and obstruct the probe into his assassination. Letting these crooked persons remain unexposed and punished will be a bigger cheer to the plotters of the past, and the crooked hopefuls for the future.
I shall conclude with the recording of reality. Maithripala Sirisena was a silent (and thus) supportive member of the Rajapaksa Cabinets in governments that continued to use white van attacks on journalists. Ranil Wickremesinghe was a leader of the Premadasa Government that attacked journalists, including Richard de Zoysa, and was the Prime Minister that blocked the final legal move to expose Richard de Zoysa’s killers.
This is not the Democracy that will expose or punish Lasantha’s killers.