Wickramatunge Killers Remain Unpunished In Sri Lanka

 

The International

Federation of Journalists notes with deep anger and sorrow, that a full year

after the daylight murder of Lasantha Wickramatunge in a busy Colombo street, there

has been little credible progress in the investigation into an event that

caused worldwide outrage.

 

Speaking to the IFJ, Lasantha’s

brother, Lal Wickramatunge, chairman of the Leader group of publications,

recounts a story of apathy and indifference.

 

“There have been hearings of the

case every two weeks,” he says, “but no evidence of any progress in identifying

the guilty.”

 

On January 7, a day before the one

year anniversary of Wickramatunge’s murder, the Criminal Investigation Division

(CID) of the Sri Lankan police reported that the cause of Lasantha’s death was

a head injury inflicted by a sharp weapon and not a gunshot wound as previously

believed.

 

The IFJ regrets that a basic detail,

essential for the murder investigation, has only now been unambiguously

clarified, despite repeated requests from Wickramatunge’s family that the full

forensic report into the murder be placed before the court.

 

The IFJ observes that the course of the

investigation runs contrary to the assurances held out from the highest level

of the Sri Lankan government, notably the announcement by President Mahinda

Rajapakse on January 27 last year in response to worldwide outrage, that a

breakthrough in the investigations was imminent.

 

Two days after this assurance by

President Rajapakse, police arrested two taxi drivers in Colombo. One was released soon afterwards.

The sole detainee today, identified as B. Sugatha Perera, can be held guilty of

no crime more serious than stealing a mobile phone from Wickramatunge’s person,

perhaps as he was being transferred to hospital, grievously wounded on January

8 last year.

 

The IFJ notes that at a hearing of

the case in November, a lawyer representing the Wickramatunge family expressed

dissatisfaction with the investigation and asked for a judicial direction

transferring the case from the jurisdiction of the local police to the CID,

which is a specialised agency of the Sri Lankan police. On December 10, the

investigations were formally handed over to the CID on a directive from Sri Lanka’s top

police official, Inspector-General Victor Perera.

 

In effect, the case remains where it

was when the preliminary inquest into the murder was held. Wickramatunge’s

widow, Sonali Samarasinghe, had at that time asked that the investigation be

handed over to CID, assisted if possible by international forensic experts. Her

request, made within a week of the murder, was reiterated at a February 18

hearing. And on March 15, Sonali Samarasinghe addressed a letter to Sri Lanka’s

President, reminding him of numerous public assurances he and his ministers had

held out, that justice would be done.

 

 “In a long history of tension between the

media community and authorities in Sri Lanka, Lasantha’s murder was a

clear turning point”, IFJ General Secretary, Aidan

White said. “It led to an enveloping mood of terror among Sri Lanka’s

journalists, compelling many of them to leave the country.”

 

“With peace now being restored to Sri Lanka after

a quarter century long civil war, we expect the Government to credibly address

all the abuses of the past in a spirit of transparency and accountability.

Restoring the freedom and autonomy of the media, which were gravely imperilled

through the years of conflict, would be a necessary part of the process of

national reconciliation. The Lasantha Wickramatunge murder is a test case in

this respect”, said White.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919

 

The IFJ

represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide