29 September, 2020

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And Then They Came For Me, The Lasantha Wickrematunge Story

By Angie Singam

When Lasantha Wickrematunge, the Editor of the Sri Lankan newspaper, The Sunday Leader was shot dead on a Colombo street in 2009, the posthumous editorial resonated not just with the local media, but with the world in general. He wrote from beyond the grave, ‘I hope my murder will not be seen as a defeat of freedom, but an inspiration.’

That inspiration lives on in the struggle to expose the truth by a few brave journalists in Sri Lanka; in the fight of the few remaining independent newspapers in the country and in the book by Raine Wickrematunge celebrating the life of Lasantha Wickrematunge, a remarkable man and a brave journalist.

I read the book ‘And Then They Came For Me’ expecting sentimentality and pathos, but instead was surprised by the tightly reined content. Here is an author in the uncomfortable position of being emotionally involved both with the subject and the journalistic world that he inhabited, but it never deteriorates into the maudlin. Raine, a journalist in her own right, pioneered The Sunday Leader in 1994 with her then husband Lasantha, his brother Lal and Haris Hulugalle, Chairman of Multi-Packs.  She puts the newspaper in its political context with incisive skill and Lasantha’s story after the first few chapters becomes part of the newspaper’s development, as it should. The two are inextricably linked in the journalistic history of Sri Lanka.

Was Lasantha brave or foolhardy? Did he want fame and fortune and was he reckless in the pursuit of it? The questions are put to rest in the book. It is apparent that brought up in a mainstream Sinhala Buddhist family with political affiliations, he inherited a social position which he divested for the sake of his idealism. He turned down political posts, overseas assignments and attempts by successive governments to buy him out of the powerful role he played uncovering nepotism, corruption and political skullduggery under the nom de plume Suranimala.

A qualified lawyer, he used not just his understanding of the law and legislature but his sphere of influence to gain access to the inner circles and write ‘politically dynamite stories’.  Raine writes, ‘Lasantha’s authoritative journalism wasn’t the kind that simply ruffled feathers; it ignited public debate. It was his exposures on the government that prodded a lethargic opposition to sit up, take note and move into action’.

Raine describes in vivid detail the attacks on their lives, their workplace, orchestrated arrests and near arrests, arson attacks and death threats they received through the years. Their phones were tapped, they were stalked by government goons, the State Censor played Russian roulette with their newspaper. None of this quelled Lasantha’s ardour to expose the truth and shame the government when it erred. When interviewed by Asiaweek after the attack on his house, Lasantha said, “I consider these incidents an occupational hazard. They only strengthen my resolve to continue with my work”.

‘…Lasantha Wickrematunge has earned great respect abroad for his contribution to the anti-corruption movement. International recognition may counterpoise the ill-treatment he has experienced at home in Sri Lanka, a country which he is trying to serve through his determined investigation of the truth,’ said Transparency International, the global coalition against worldwide corruption that presented him with an award for investigative journalism in 1999.

The war in the North and the Government’s appalling human rights record were a frequent theme of Suranimala’s writing. In May 2000, he daringly wrote an article on the attack on the Palaly Army camp by the LTTE, circumventing a media ban imposed by the then PA Government. Every statement in the article was prefaced with the word ‘not’ with the headline reading, ‘War in fantasy land – Palaly not under attack’.

Raine has a prodigious memory and probably a store-house of both press clippings and knowledge. She has brought vast resources to bear in charting the course of history while telling this story, distilling political intrigues, illuminating stories that were published in the newspaper and revealing the powerhouse of a man in the process.

The book is a powerful indictment of the harassment and risks that journalists face in the country for having a point of view. Many have been killed, abducted, imprisoned or forced to flee, including (recently) Frederica Jansz, the Editor of The Sunday Leader. Tharmaratnam Sivaram (Taraki), Mylvaganam Nirmalarajan, Richard de Zoysa,  Iqbal Athas, J S Tissanayagam, Keith Noyahr, are all mentioned and placed in the political context of the time.

Raine has dedicated the book to, ‘those gutsy men and women all over the world who have been harassed/abducted/tortured/murdered for daring to report the truth…’ The book makes compelling reading. I read it marvelling at the taut political and social commentary as much as I marvelled at the beautifully melded story of one man’s fight for the truth.

Journalism shouldn’t have to be a heroic profession, but reading the book, the underlying rationale is that to be an independent journalist in Sri Lanka, you have to be a hero first.

In his final editorial, Lasantha writes,  ‘No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism…As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man’.

This is a man ‘whose story needed to be told’: A man whose story will be remembered in our time! A book well worth reading!

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Latest comments

  • 1
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    More than reading any book, I hope and pray the killers and those responsible be brought to justice. God willing they shall not escape the result of their vicious deed.

  • 0
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    He is in Hell

    • 2
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      I presume you know because you are already there.

      • 1
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        Kalawedi Malaya,

        KALAWEDDAGE Small Quarter’s Smell is Very,very Disgusting.

        Like his Handlers And Sponsors.

        When you visit next time,Get a Wash with COW Dungs.

        do not spread or dump your smell here.

        What you forgot That is Pirapaharan’s Best Friend Is / Was Mahindra Percy RajaPASSa.

        They Betrayed Each other Giving And Getting BRIBES And Some Killing Contracts.

        If PIRAPAHARAN was here Today,He will Sing Many Contract Songs.

        Like Laksman Kadir song, athulathmudali, Pernandupullai,and so many.

        tHEY wILL MEET IN HELL VERY SOON AND
        They will Sort out their Debts, Bribes, And other Transactions at the Hell In their Cells.
        I hope They will Meet J R J, WijeWeera, Hitler,Polpot, Stalin And Boria, Idi amin likes.

        Better to inform your BOSSES Hell Is a Proper place for them ilk.

    • 0
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      .
      You mean, he is still in Sri Lanka?

      :-)

      • 0
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        no…. with his best friend Prabakaran

        • 2
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          Your president is much worse than even Prabakaran.
          The rajapaksa’s have killed so many people
          When they killed Lasantha they also affected all sri lankans in general because they took away the biggest voice in the country they took away freedom of speech.
          After his death the unp became weak and turned into mice.
          Just imagine how much sri lankans would have known by now if he was around he would have informed the public about so much.
          The rajapaksas also discredited sri lanka when they killed him because his death has instilled a bad human rights track record in the international community.

    • 1
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      “He is in Hell”says kalaweddege.

      hell hath no fury like a president scorned.

    • 0
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      Where you will definitely be going for supporting the criminal Rajapaksas.

  • 1
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    Lasantha, in my opinion, was the sharpest and the most uncompromising journalist Sri Lanka has had, which is why he occupies a special place in the hearts of those who always desired truth and justice in the political arena. His killers are not apprehended yet, nor the madman who ordered the killing. But there will be many who will plant red herrings on this page. CT moderators will know who they are and they will open themselves to be traced. From there a start can be made to trace the kingpin.

  • 1
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    Even now,the manner,time and cause of death of Lasantha are not known.
    The postmortem report is being kept a secret.
    The group of killers were reported to have ridden motorcycles of a brand used by the army.
    But,the police are, even now,”clueless”.

  • 0
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    It’s a very serious travesty that this high profile murder has remained unpunished for so long, despite all the evidence and eye-witnesses to the crime. It speaks volumes for who might have orchestrated this dastardly act. This should be elevated to the top of the agenda prior to CHOGM; and subjecting it to rigorous scrutiny might then help to topple the house of vicious cards that has been built since 2005.

  • 0
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    when is 13 day brides book coming out

  • 0
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    The article is a tribute to Lasantha and others who exposed not only the short commings of the government but also the freedom fighters. I have known JST or Tissa as he was known. He was with MR Vasudeva N as part of the Human Rights movement arguing for the ppl who were killed during the JVP insurrection. But all that was forgotten and JST sentenced to 20 years RI. If SL isd to return to democracy and the people to lead nrmal lives, its the massess that need rise against the GOSL. We saw it happen in Egypt but it has failed. Hope the pepole will get justice.

  • 0
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    according to lankenews [Edited out]

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