By Emil van der Poorten –
Even though I wrote a regular column for The Sunday Leader for many years, I did so only after Lasantha Wickrematunge’s execution, an event that has become increasingly apparent to have been a politically-motivated act despite large amounts of information connected with the investigation being “disappeared” until after the change of government in 2015.
The very immediate circumstances of Lasantha’s killing proved, beyond any doubt, that it was an act of terror intended to warn off any potential critics of the government of the day and its acolytes. It was not simply intended to remove a burr under the saddle of a regime that was riding to unchallenged power.
I will repeat, probably for the umpteenth time, what transpired that fateful morning.
Lasantha left his home at mid-morning, alone, in his own vehicle for work in a different part of the city. Within sight of a check-point, in a high-security zone, in the capital city of Colombo, four motorcycles drew up alongside his car, two on each side, and Lasantha was shot to death by the assassins on each side of his vehicle.
One of the first things that struck me despite the sketchy description of the actual killing, was that it was not a pistol, revolver or assault rifle firing lead projectiles that was used for the purpose. It appeared to have been an implement specifically used in abattoirs (livestock-killing plants) to dispatch animals such as cattle, hogs and sheep for subsequent human consumption.
How did I arrive at this conclusion?
Many years ago, I worked in one element of a small vertically-integrated livestock operation in Southern Alberta, Canada. While my employment was in a part of the company that manufactured livestock feed, we were given conducted tours of the other elements of the total operation from time to time. One of these was a killing plant and I have a distinct recollection of the display and demonstration of the weapon used to kill livestock prior to their carcasses being flayed and cut-up and hung up to “season” prior to dispatch to the meat departments of grocery chains.
The weapon which was shown to us and the use of which was demonstrated to us could best be described as a pistol which carried within its barrel an arrow-like projectile with a very substantial short shaft and a large steel arrowhead. The end of the barrel of this weapon was pressed against the temple of the animal and, when the trigger was pulled, the “arrow” popped out of the barrel and penetrated the animal’s head causing instant death. For purposes of accuracy it should be stated that this “arrow” didn’t leave the weapon’s barrel entirely but could be used over and over again.
The use of such a weapon to kill Lasantha could have had one single purpose: to frighten anyone else having the temerity to criticize and expose the monumental corruption and criminality of a regime that called the shots at the time, without any let or hindrance. Why else go to the trouble of using such weapons when sophisticated killing devices specifically intended to kill people were and still are, if regular media reports are to be believed, a-dime-a-dozen in Sri Lanka?
But, thanks primarily to some very brave female journalists (with minimal male participation in that opposition!) the Rajapaksa Regime did not succeed in riding the wave of LTTE-decimation to eternal power!
That the woman who took Lasantha’s place as the editor of the Sunday Leader had, ultimately, to run for her life, with her two young children, to the United States proved, if proof be needed, that Lasantha’s killing was not just an isolated instance of the elimination of a particular political nuisance. In fact, even innocuous writers such as the one penning this piece were subjected to all kinds of “inquiries” and attempted “visits” over the years leading to 2015 (and the disappointment that has followed!)
The manner of Lasantha’s murder was intended to instill terror as opposed to the surgically-executed murder of Lakshman Kadirgamar which was distinctly political, no matter which of the two commonly-held theories one accepts.
My contact with Frederica Jansz began with her finding some of my scribblings suitable for a glossy magazine she edited at the time called, if memory serves, “Montage.”
When she followed Lasantha as editor of the Sunday Leader on the latter’s demise, she invited me to write for that Sunday English paper, something I did till shortly after her having to seek political refuge in the USA. In fact, despite my reluctance, it was Frederica who chose to append “Renaissance Man” to the columns I wrote for her paper!
The events that led up to her having to flee Sri Lanka have been dealt with at length elsewhere but it was her naivete with regard to a person whom she had helped in a very personal way and in, perhaps, a journalistically-unethical manner, that surprised me. And this is not a case of being wise after the fact because my reading of the situation at the time made it patently obvious what was in store for the Sunday Leader when something like 70% of the paper’s ownership was taken over by someone with close links to the Rajapaksa regime. I warned Frederica about what would be coming despite her assurances of journalistic integrity continuing to prevail after the takeover. To no avail.
While this piece is about a journalist martyr that Sri Lankans will do well NEVER to forget, no such description will be complete without some of what went on after his death.
Rest in peace, Lasantha, you performed a signal service for Sri Lankans in their hour of greatest need.