By Prasad Sarathchandra –
Ten Years ago, on a fateful Thursday, 8 January 2009, journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge was brutally assassinated on his way to work by four gunmen riding motorcycles. I was at a meeting with a mutual friend in the legal profession when he received the call that Lasantha had been shot and taken to Kalubowila hospital. Upon hearing this shocking news, we both rushed to the hospital to check what has happened to Lasantha. Amongst hundreds of people Lasantha was lying on a stretcher, being taken inside the hospital for treatment. It is with great sadness that I remember the final moments of Lasantha who was fighting for his life.
Lasantha was the fearless editor and founder of “The Sunday Leader” alongside his brother Lal and was probably the country’s most influential media person. He had been fiercely critical of the government and the Tamil tiger separatists. Along with his legal background he was a courageous investigative journalist and a human rights activist among the few forces defending democracy. He explored corruption, nepotisms and other misdeeds of state officials and fearlessly reported them.
The motto of “The Sunday Leader” was “unbowed and unafraid”. Lasantha perfectly fitted this motto. Lasantha’s life was in danger throughout his journalistic career. His life was threatened by political henchmen who wanted to silence him. They tried everything possible to stop him. Lasantha was unbowed and unafraid to his last breath and, they could not stop the rising popularity of “The Sunday Leader”.
Lasantha knew that he was likely to be murdered and so wrote an extraordinary article to be published only after his death. He believed that government would be responsible for his murder. His murder was widely condemned across the world and raised questions about freedom of expression in the country. The government denied any involvement with his murder and called for an investigation. However, no one has been punished to date for his murder.
Lasantha was a practising lawyer for several years before entering into journalism. He also had a short stint in politics before entering into journalism. He chose journalism over politics for the sheer desire he had in exploring and revealing the truth. Lasantha was murdered for standing up to the lies and impunity of rulers. The issues underlying such assassinations remain, with a long list of journalists that have given their life to the underground dark forces of this world. He was a beacon of hope for people who thirst for the truth. Those who murdered him have not only stopped the freedom of expression but have also barred the freedom of information. At this day we mourn the 10th death anniversary of a true leader who fought justice in the most cruelty free form; being free speech, the world headlines are about Khashoggi, yet another untimely and brutal death of a journalist.
Lasantha could have simply carried on as a lawyer and built up a lucrative legal practice. Alternatively, he could have sought a peaceful life overseas. However, he never gave up his passion for journalism and changed the culture of journalism within his short life span. We are ever grateful to Lasantha for his contributions. There are so many lessons learnt through his life’s work, by both young and old journalists and the young ones who aspire to be a journalist.
It takes great courage to fight for justice. Lasantha embodied such courage and used his pen to fight for justice. It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, but those who wield the pen to reveal the truth are the mightiest of all.