8th January marks the first anniversary of the assassination of Lasantha Wikrematunge, the senior journalist and founding editor of “The Sunday Leader” newspaper. Lasantha Wikrematunge was on his way to his office when four motorcyclists wearing black followed him for several miles before gunning him down during the morning hours on a busy road in a Colombo suburb – apparently without any fear of being apprehended. By committing this horrendous crime in broad day-light and leaving the scene ‘miraculously’ without being stopped at any of the security road blocks in Colombo, the assassins proved two important facts: first, that they were well experienced killers and the second, that they had a ‘special’ capability to evade detection.
Lasantha Wikrematunge sacrificed his life for his treasured ideals – that is the practice of fearless critical journalism. All political and social forces of the country condemned the assassination and promised to bring culprits to justice.
But long before he was killed, Lasantha frequently received threats against his outspoken criticism of government. Reflecting his awareness about the growing threats, he wrote in his last note to his newspaper that "[i]n 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 kills me." No one else other than Lasantha Wikrematunge could have made a better judgement on who was behind those threats. But so far government has done nothing to absolve itself from this serious accusation other than by staging a pseudo arrest to hoodwink the country.
As things stand now, this cowardly assassination which shocked the country and became a fatal blow to media freedom in Sri Lanka will remain as another unresolved killing, reflecting the deep rooted and well preserved culture of impunity. The inability of the police to submit an investigation report to the court even after 26 hearings and after one full year had elapsed clearly shows the Sri Lankan Government’s intention of covering up the murder. The efforts of the Government during the past year to drag investigations deliberately without making any significant breakthrough has reconfirmed Lasantha Wikrematunge's fateful prediction that ‘it will be the government that kills him’.
But one year after the death of Lasantha, instead of apprehending the killers who murdered him and many other journalists, their tragic fate has been turned into a mere political slogan simply to be used for propaganda purposes in hostile election campaigns. For example, the person who held the highest office in Sri Lanka's military has repeatedly claimed on political platforms, that he is aware of the identities of the perpetrators in the killings and committed the atrocities against journalists. He even went further to implicate the Defence Secretary as the person responsible for many such crimes. On the other hand, the Defence Secretary himself has publicly claimed that he knows the identity of those who attacked the media and intimidated the journalists.
All these statements amount to evidence that all these parties are withholding information. Apart from that it provides ample proof that Lasanthas’ killing and other atrocities were in fact carried out by parties attached to the government. Therefore, both the Army Commander and the Defence Secretary should be held responsible for their statements, and must be forced to divulge the information, since they have openly proclaimed their knowledge of the identity of the responsible parties. The plight of the media and the danger that Sri Lankan media workers face should not be allowed to be made part of any political propaganda by either by those in power or those who aspire to be in power. We strongly believe that initiating such an investigation will enable those others who feel apprehensive of divulging information in an atmosphere with no witness protection mechanism to come forward.
We, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, reiterate strongly the words of Lasantha Wikrematunge at his first death anniversary which falls on this day. We feel that this will be the judgement of our peoples' conscience as well. The burden of proving the contrary is with the Government of Sri Lanka. So far the Government of Sri Lanka has failed in this challenge issued by fallen journalist Lasantha Wikramatunge.
History has written its judgement. Regardless of newly found electoral divisions, the Government of Sri Lanka should bear the responsibility of the murder of Lasantha Wikrematunge.
Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka
08th January 2010