By Lal Wickrematunge –
The 5th of April marks the 57th birth anniversary of Lasantha, murdered six years ago on the 8th of January. Mahinda Rajapaksa was defeated at the last Presidential elections also on the 8th of January. 8/1 will be etched in the history of this Island for two divergent emotions. Sadness, for the loss of a life snatched away in a meaningless excercise and Joy for snatching away power from a Leader hell bent on taking Sri Lanka down a path where it would have taken generations to restore law and order within a decent and pluralist society.
Lasantha became the last bastion for most who had no other means to seek redress from a marauding government. He was prepared to “Publish and be damned” and he was. He flew too close to the sun (Icarus) yet knew no other way to practice his vocation despite the many physical and verbal assaults he encountered. Assaulted, vilified, hauled to court, offices set on fire etc, did not deter him from his quest for justice, fairplay and good governance through his writing.
His killers and those who ordered such roam free. Some of them. Some have been sent to the nether world. The very simplistic act of handing over the resultant investigation to the Terrorist Investigations Division (TID) was an indication that it was meant to be hushed up. There was absolutely no progress made by this unit and I say that it was intentional.
Most within the top echelons of the previous government are in the know as to who carried out this dastardly act. Even Joe Blog plodding the street can guess who wished Lasantha dead. Some justified his killing through media interviews. Some called him a Tabloid Editor in a tone which suggested that he did not deserve to be alive. Hate speech against Lasantha continues to this date. A politician who is now being investigated for graft and a director of a business house under the spotlight at present gloated with glee, ” Lasantha was killed on the streets like a dog….damn good.” Yes. There are such Sri Lankans.
No less a person than the previous President of this country told me thrice that Lasantha was killed by Gen. Sarath Fonseka. Remember that the previous President was the Commander in Chief of all the Security Forces, Minister of Defence, and had power to appoint all the Judges. I did question him as to why he did not share this information in the Magistrates Court of Mt Lavinia where Lasantha’s murder case was being heard. He mumbled something about the military being demoralised. Gen. Fonseka was remanded immediately after his loss at the Presidential elections which was months after Lasantha was murdered under President Rajapaksa’s watch, for speaking to politicians whilst in service and helping to purchase binoculars offered by his son in law violating tender procedure. Much later he was sentenced over the “White Flag Case”.
If the President of this Country knew that Gen. Fonseka murdered Lasantha why did he not charge him for such offence? Would he not have had greater political mileage for it than the afore mentioned superfluous charges?
I did speak of the President’s charge at the grave site of Lasantha during his fourth death anniversary which was covered and carried by the BBC and Al Jazeera. I was rewarded by being summoned to the Criminal Investigation Department. The charge was that I was attempting to bring an elected government into disrepute by making statements to the international media. Perhaps they did not know that Lasantha was an international figure and recipient of many coveted awards from across the world. But I digress. When the BBC questioned Gen. Fonseka he denied and found fault with me. The charge was made by the former President. I repeated it. Gen. Fonseka in turn accused Mahinda and Gotabaya. Previously Gen. Fonseka said that drug barons acting like politicians were behind the killing of Lasantha.
I lost a brother and had every right to question the former President. He almost lost a brother when the LTTE targeted Gotabaya, though without success and should remember at least a tad of the anxiety he felt at coming close to losing a brother. I lost one.
The family of Lasantha, on this symbolic day would wish for nothing but an investigation leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for his murder. We need closure. To build a just and law abiding society in this island, this and the solving of other such murders would be a prerequisite. Anything short of such would be a black mark against our country for all time.
Accountability is the bedrock on which reconciliation can be built upon. History will tell its tale and a precedent set for future actions similar in nature unless all killings are investigated and successfully prosecuted.
Many of the investigative articles written by Lasantha during his time, for which he was damned, have been revived. Assaulted, called a traitor, hauled before court, arson attacks on his office and finally killed, Lasantha’s writings have stood the test of time. Many have said that he was far ahead of his time for this country. So what has changed? Only a government .
Happy Birthday Lasantha.