People cannot be fooled continuously by false promises – Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema | Sunday Observer

People cannot be fooled continuously by false promises – Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema

6 January, 2019

The News Editor of the Sunday Leader at the time, Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema, vividly remembers the fateful Thursday in 2009.

It was a busy day with deadlines fast approaching. With two assignments lined up, she recalls leaving the office in the hope of meeting her Editor later in the morning. But that meeting would never take place.

After her first assignment for the day, something inside her said she had to return to office. “To this day I don’t know why I felt that way,” she says.

Cancelling her second assignment she decided to head back to the Sunday Leader office only to come across a severe traffic jam on Attidiya road.

“When she inquired, a shop owner in the area said perhaps a fight had broken out,” she recalls. Sensing a news story, she decided to walk towards the site. But unknown to her, she was one of the first people to chance upon the site where Lasantha Wickrematunge had been attacked by unknown assailants just moments before.

“It was Lasantha’s car, KC 1098,” she remembers. The car seats were splattered with blood and the vehicle’s windows shattered. Screaming she asks the bystanders as to what had become of the driver who was in the car only to be shown Lasantha being carried to a van.

As the Sunday Leader staff converged at the Colombo South Teaching Hospital it was a long wait as Lasantha was taken in for emergency surgery.

But Mandana says despite the difficult situation, Lasantha’s words had pushed them to return to office. As the journalists carried on, a call from a fellow journalist of the ‘Irudina’ newspaper brought the dreaded news. “He said Lasantha was no more,” Mandana says. As Lasantha’s body was brought to the Sunday Leader office the next day, Mandana says it was difficult to see him lifeless on a day he would normally be the most active getting ready to publish the weekend paper.

The Sunday Leader was printed that weekend and continuously in the following weeks. “That is what Lasantha would have wanted so we carried on,” she says.

Recalling better times prior to January 8, 2009, she says Lasantha was more than just an editor or employer. In him, she found a friend, at times even a second father. Often lending an ear to colleagues who only wanted to have a chat, he would listen to anyone who wanted to share a personal grievance.

“He was a wonderful human being but unfortunately many people only saw him either as a journalist or a person with political ambitions,” she says.

To Mandana, it was Lasantha’s determination and the never give up attitude that has constantly stayed with her. “He was always determined to do what was right and it drove him day and night,” she remembers. He would encourage journalists to look for various means to get even the most impossible news scoop.

Having lost someone so dear, Mandana says the slow pace of the investigations has become personally frustrating. “A decade has gone by and the killers remain at large.”

As the authorities have failed to make significant headway, Mandana says it is difficult to believe that they are unable to do so when other investigations are progressing fast.

While this is worrisome it is also sad, as the 2015 Yahapalana government had come into power through promises of justice to journalists who were killed, abducted or assaulted. “We have not seen any visible progress,” she laments, adding that most people in the Cabinet now were once Lasantha’s friends and therefore, have a duty to ensure a proper investigation is carried out.

“People cannot be fooled continuously by false promises,” she says. As many young journalists who were nurtured by Lasantha continue to dominate the media industry today, Mandana says this is the legacy left behind by Lasantha Wickrematunge.