Bringing Lasantha’s killers to justice | Sunday Observer

Bringing Lasantha’s killers to justice

Is the lack of progress in the investigation into the killing of journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge due to the fact that a person of interest in this matter is a citizen of the USA?

Are local Police and Judicial authorities concerned about the impact on relations between Sri Lanka and the USA?

The United States is continuing its probes and criticisms regarding the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi in early October last year, and especially the role of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman; leading to strained relations with the Saudi Kingdom, despite President Donald Trump’s decided support of the Arab Kingdom and the Crown Prince.

Jamal Khashoggi was not a citizen of the US. He was a resident there, who worked as a columnist for The Washington Post, and was a strong critic of the highly authoritarian policies of the Saudi Kingdom.

He moved to the US because of concerns about the attitude of the Saudi Kingdom on Media Freedom and threats to independent journalists.

Jamal Khashoggi

While this continued interest in bringing the killers of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a non-US citizen, shows the commitment of the democratic forces in the US for the rights of journalists, there is increasing surprise about the apparent lack of interest among these democratic forces, and the law and order authorities in the US, over the murder of Sri Lankan journalist and editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge in January 2008.

The killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge, strongly condemned by democratic organisations throughout the world, was a marked attack on Media Freedom and independent journalists in Sri Lanka; at a time the country was under the rule of a government strongly opposed to the values of democracy, in what remains the oldest democracy in Asia.

There has been, and remains, strong unproven suspicion that a powerful person in Sri Lankan politics and administration at the time of Lasantha’s killing had knowledge about this gruesome murder, which remains an unproven case in the recent history of attacks on journalists in this country. It is also of interest that the person is also a citizen of the US, with property and economic assets in the US and a regular visitor there.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the former Secretary of the Ministry of Defence in Sri Lanka, served under President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brother, from 2005 till 2015. He was also an Officer of the Sri Lankan Army, who was engaged in the battle against the LTTE, but retired from the Army while the fight against the LTTE was in progress and moved to the United States. He returned to the country when the first presidential election of his brother Mahinda was taking place, and was appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, when his brother won the election in 2005.

What is of increased concern among those interested in bringing the killers of Lasantha and the attackers of other journalists to justice, which has so far not been finally done, is that the failure of the law enforcement authorities in this regard could be because:

1. This individual was a key and controlling figure over the defence and police authorities in this country, at the time of Lasantha’s killing, and

2. Because he remains a citizen of the United States.

The fact that he is a citizen of the US is well known in Sri Lanka, and reported very often in the local media, especially because of his increasing interest in the presidential politics of Sri Lanka. The fact of his US citizenship must also be well known to the US Embassy here, because of the media reports about him, and also the recent statements by the daughter of the late Lasantha, with regard to her father’s killing, on the 10th anniversary of his death, in a widely publicized letter.

In a further development, which brings this person’s alleged association with or knowledge of the killing of Lasantha to further light is the response he gave to Lasantha’s daughter: “If Lasantha’s daughter wishes to know who the killers of her father were, tell her to come to Sri Lanka and meet me. I will tell what happened. But, I have no evidence to prove it in a court of law,” in an interview with a Sinhala newspaper – Aruna on January 19, 2019.

The Police

The question that arises here is why this person, of such importance as a former Secretary of Defence, a former officer of the Sri Lankan Army, and a rising political personality, does not give this information to the Police, who are carrying out the investigations into Lasantha’s killing?

Surely, it is the duty of the Police to study the information he gives and take steps to clearly identify the killers of Lasantha, what happened, and bring them to justice without any further delay.

There is also the question whether it is a failure to carry out one’s duty as a citizen of a democratic society, not to bring to the notice of the law enforcement authorities whatever knowledge one has about the murder of a citizen?

Another question arises as to why the Police have so far not acted on this statement he has given to the Aruna Sinhala newspaper on January 19, 2019 about his knowledge of the killers of Lasantha to expedite and possibly conclude the investigation into this killing.

Is it to be concluded that this lack of investigation by the Police of such available evidence is due to this person with such knowledge is a citizen of the United States? Is the absence of such investigation because of concerns about Foreign Policy relationships between Sri Lanka and the United States? Has the US Embassy in Colombo made any advances to the relevant authorities in Sri Lanka not to pursue such inquiries about a US citizen, which seems unlikely, but US diplomacy also has peculiarities at times? Or, is this because of authorities here seeing difficulties in dealing with the US authorities, if necessary, because Sri Lanka has no permanent Ambassador in Washington for a considerable period?

Gotabaya Rajapaksa in his interview with the Aruna also states, “even today the investigations into the murder of Lasantha have stopped at the same place where our investigations stopped. The reason is that it is a separate Police and Judicial procedure”. This is incorrect.

The investigations have proceeded since 2015 and judicial inquiries after exhuming the body of Lasantha, by senior judicial medical personnel, have shown that the original judicial medical report that his killing was caused by a firearm bullet is wrong, that his killing was caused by an attack by another weapon, not a firearm, but very violent in its use.

The question is why no action has been taken by the authorities, both judicial and medical, against the judicial medical officer who gave such a wrong and misleading report on the cause of Lasantha’s death and the weapon used. What was the influence, political or otherwise, that led to this judicial medical officer giving such a wrong and misleading report?

With the US engaged in such activity over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was not a US citizen, it seems necessary to raise questions about why no inquiries whatever are being made in the US and in Colombo about the role, if any, of a US citizen, with regard to knowledge of the killing of a journalist in Sri Lanka, which remains an unsolved crime.