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
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
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.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
represents over 600,000 journalists in 125 countries worldwide