COLOMBO: The Mount Lavinia Magistrate on Thursday ordered the Sri Lankan government to exhume the remains of fearless journalist and internationally known human rights activist Lasantha Wickrematunge on September 27 because the post-mortem conducted in January 2009 was suspicious.
The court order follows the arrest of a Sergeant in the military intelligence in mid-July this year.
On January 8, 2009, 51 year old Wickrematunge, fondly referred to as “Lasantha” was shot by men on motorcycles at Attidiya in the outskirts of the Sri Lankan capital while he was on the way to work in the morning. He died in hospital a few hours later.
There were accusations that top echelons of the Sri Lankan defense establishment were responsible for the murder. The top echelons at the time included President cum Defense Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and Army chief Lt.Gen.Sarath Fonseka. But investigations conducted at that time yielded precious little.
However, investigations picked up when Maithripala Sirisena came to power in January 2015. The army too cooperated and a Sergeant of the Military Intelligence was arrested in July this year. Wickrematunge’s grave in Colombo was put under police protection to prevent tampering with evidence.
The outspoken and fearless editor of The Sunday Leader was posthumously awarded the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom prize.
A tribute which appeared in the website www.unbowedandunafraid.com said that Lasantha’s humility and steadfastness of purpose transcended superficial achievement. When he wrote in his final editorial that there is, “a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security,” he meant it. He lived it.
“For the Mahinda Rajapakse administration he was the biggest thorn in their flesh. Week after week he reported on governmental waste, corruption and excess. He investigated corrupt military procurement deals, spoke out strongly and passionately for a negotiated settlement to the ethnic conflict and debunked blatant government propaganda on the war,” the tribute said.
“Lasantha's grouse with a military solution to the conflict as pursued by the present government and its extremist allies was the staggering civilian cost. He genuinely felt that while it was important to eliminate the LTTE it was important also to respect the lives of minority Tamil civilians.”
“However by bombing LTTE targets from the air and even treating civilian hospitals in LTTE controlled areas as legitimate targets the government itself was resorting to terrorism. And it is to this that Lasantha objected. These he called war crimes because had these targets been in majority Sinhala areas it is inconceivable that the government would have bombed them. That is what he felt. That is the stand he died for.”
“Lasantha was a martyr for the cause of free expression. The right to be a dissident.”