By Raine Wickrematunge –
Today marks the fifth anniversary of Lasantha’s murder. Five long and painful years have passed but apart from producing a few red herrings in a flurry of publicity in the first year and a half-hearted attempt at solving the murder, to date, nothing has come of it.
Following the murder, President Mahinda Rajapakse informed the country a proper and speedy investigation would be carried out on the assassination of ‘his friend.’ He personally assured me the same. “His children need to know the truth” he said at the time gesturing at Lasantha’s 10-year-old son. Five years on, no one can claim that a serious investigation was ever carried out. It would be safe to surmise that no significant developments in the case would take place in the lifetime of the current regime. If and when those responsible for Lasantha’s cowardly murder are brought to book, it will indeed be a gold letter day in the blood soaked, tear-stained media history of Sri Lanka which has such a deplorable ranking in the World Press Freedom Index.
People talk of development in our country in the form of fine new roads and ornamental parks but these cosmetic changes mean little when you consider that in this same land human rights receive scant regard, those protesting for their rights are fired at and people live in the grip of uncertainty and fear. True development will come only when democracy operates in its purest form. That an honest and unbiased investigation will take place and justice will prevail when a crime is committed is an assurance that those who live in a free land enjoy. Unfortunately that right seems to elude those who live in a land that is democratic by name but where, if you have the right connections, you can get away with the most heinous of crimes.
Lasantha’s murder and the resultant worldwide exposure may have inspired others and created awareness of the plight of journalists in our part of the world but his murder was such a tragedy, such a waste. His killers didn’t just murder Lasantha, they destroyed the people’s right to be informed. Sri Lankan journalism was so much richer for Lasantha Wickrematunge.
People still ask us how life has been for us these past five years. On different occasions, my children – especially Ahimsa – and I have expressed how hard it has been; how fraught with difficulty the journey to recovery has been. I don’t want to sound boringly repetitious; suffice to say that each of our children has felt acutely, the absence of their father. Our youngest, Aadesh, was just 10 when Lasantha was killed; he is now15 and growing up to be a fine young man. I have seen how much the absence of his father has affected him.
In these past few years there has also been much talk of the plight of The Sunday Leader since Lasantha’s death. It was an accepted fact that The Sunday Leader would never be the same without the clout of Lasantha’s journalistic brilliance. He carried the Leader on his shoulders. As for the current situation, it can be described as the tragic fall of a mighty giant of the media industry. A fearless and fiercely independent voice has been stilled.
Most of the staff who were like an extended family and a clever and wonderfully gifted team of warriors, have left. Many young journalists missed the dynamism and leadership Lasantha provided. He was a wonderful boss and the staff adored him and after his death many were too disheartened to continue. And when the paper changed hands, more people realised this wasn’t what they had signed up for. The Sunday Leader under Lasantha’s stewardship had revolutionised the media by introducing fearless journalism and naming and shaming the devil whatever office he or she held and the journalists who worked alongside him at the Leader imbibed the great principles Lasantha embodied.
In May this year I released Lasantha’s biography which unfortunately is not sold in Sri Lankan bookstores. When Ceylon Today contacted me for a quote for an article titled ‘Who is afraid of Lasantha?’ on this subject, I declined to comment. I felt it would be unfair of me to blame bookshops for not stocking the book knowing full well the repercussions they may face if they did, even though I don’t consider it to be a controversial book. Suffice to say it is a sad reflection of the state of the right of expression in our country. The white van culture has instilled such fear among people. As we know, the powers that be don’t need to place an official ban on a publication; the insidious threats and harassments will act as an effective muzzle anyway. We all know that Lasantha died as a result of ignoring such threats and carrying on with his work unbowed and unafraid.
Today will be a difficult day for Lasantha’s family, especially his children, his brothers and sisters and his nieces and nephews who all loved him so much. All his friends and colleagues too will remember him today with much love. His brother Lal and ex Sunday Leader colleagues have organised commemorative events and opposition political parties are due to hold protest marches.
As we look back on the life of this remarkable journalist, we can only hope that Sri Lanka will one day witness the dynamism of an independent and fearless journalist of his caliber again.
*Raine Wickrematunge was Lasantha’s wife and co-founder of The Sunday Leader. She is the author of Lassantha’s biography ‘And Then They Came For Me’ released in May 2013.