"He was a good friend of mine" - President Rajapakse on Lasantha Wickrematunge

In a recent interview with Time Magazine, Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapakse spoke briefly on the death of Lasantha Wickrematunge.

Lasantha was the editor of the Sunday Leader publication in Sri Lanka. He was ruthlessly gunned down on his way to work on the 8th of January 2009.

At the time of his death, Lasantha and The Sunday Leader publication was embroiled in a defamation suit filed against them by President Rajapakse's brother, the defence secretary, Gothabaya Rajapakse.

Lasantha was also highly critical of the current administration's war on the Tamil Tigers.

It has to be noted, however, that other private (not state owned) publications like the Sunday Times and the Island too have been critical of the administration's policies.

With so much information out there, it's sometimes hard to dissect reality from what we are led to believe. The Sunday Leader and Lasantha Wickrematunge were not the only critics of the government, and Lasantha's death had very little impact on any lawsuit which involved him and the government.

I assume that at this point you question the motives behind me writing this. You are trying to ascertain my bias. Everyone is biased. We all slant one way or the other. But my intentions behind this piece is to present the facts surrounding Lasantha's death, and try remove common misconceptions in the process.

I don't care for partisan politics, or for Rajapakse when talking about the senseless slaying of an innocent man.

Photo courtesy The Sunday Leader

A couple of days ago I wrote the post: 'Did Mervyn do it?'

Since then, I've had time to dig into the news archives and educate myself more on the topic.

Lasantha was on the Amnesty International 'endangered list' since 1998.

Who was in power in 1998? I believe it was Chandrika Kumaratunga.

Lasantha's well being was under threat from as far back as 1998, and not just under Rajapakse's administration.

Sri Lanka under Ranil Wickremasinghe from 1993-94 and from 2001-2004 was no safer place for journalist either.

Let's face it. If you live on the island you know darn well that there are politicians who would kill anyone to win an election. There are people in Sri Lanka who can kill to tarnish another's reputation.

I would be a fool to rule out the possibility of someone gaining positively from the death of Lasantha.

When news spread of Lasantha's death all heads turned towards the Rajapakses. To some there was no doubt. It had to be them. It was Gothabaya. It's just so given and very obvious.

That's exactly why we must scrutinise this further.

"He was a good friend of mine. He had informed somebody to inform me that he was in danger. But unfortunately, I didn't get that message. I would have told him to go to the nearest police station. No one knows what happened," said Mahinda Rajapakse when the Time Magazine correspondent informed him that Lasantha had mentioned Rajapakse's name in his posthumous editorial.

Before Lasantha's death he had mentioned to his co-workers that he saw suspicious individuals following him on motor bikes. Rajapakse claims Lasantha had informed a third party to contact Rajapakse, and warn him of a threat to his life.

"He wouldn't have called me if it was a government thing ... I hope we will know the truth. Otherwise, I am getting blackguarded and I am getting the blame," Rajapakse told Time.

Did his "good friend" have no direct means of contacting him? Or does he mean he had called his residence and left a message for him which no one got around to delivering?

The president of Sri Lanka must answer these questions in the most transparent manner possible if he expects anyone to conclusively rule out his involvement.

The investigation into the killing isn't going anywhere either. If Rajapakse is committed to clearing his name the very least he could do is to make sure the killer is brought to justice.

The Sunday Leader
Six months after the murder of The Sunday Leader's Founder Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge police investigations into the killing are reported to have made no progress whatsoever.

Further, on consecutive occasions when the Wickrematunge murder case was being heard at the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate's Court police representatives failed to make an appearance forcing the postponement of the hearings.

When questioned by The Sunday Leader as to why the Mirihana Police had failed to appear before the court, Police Spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera claimed that 'other commitments' did not allow them to attend the sessions.

"It's not that the Mirihana Police wanted to stay away from court but they have other pressing obligations that need be carried out," he said.

Shortly after Lasantha's death Rajapakse's Media Minister, Anura Priyadarsahana Yapa had told reporters that the President and the First Lady were to host Lasantha and his wife at Temple Trees for dinner.

President Mahinda Rajapakse and First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa.

“Lasantha had invited President Rajapaksa for his wedding but the President did not attend on security advice. But the newly wed couple had been invited by the President to Temple Trees,” Minister Yapa told the Daily Mirror.

In an Editorial said to have been written by him, before his death, Lasantha Wickrematunge addresses Rajapakse.

In it he says, " In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry."

"But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it."

It seems as though the accusation is directed at the obvious culprit Gothabaya Rajapakse.

If we are to remain impartial and neutral we must then scrutinise the letter too. Can a regular reader of the Sunday Leader enlighten me - by leaving a comment on this post - if Lasantha had mentioned of any threat to his life, in his column, in the weeks prior to his death?

Was the posthumous editorial written by Lasantha? If he took the time to pen all this down why did he not voice his concerns publicly prior to his death? Only those closest to Lasantha will ever know the truth to that.

To me the obvious question then is why isn't Mahinda Rajapakse not doing enough to find the culprits and clear his name?

If my "good friend" was murdered in such a brutal manner, and if members of my family were being implicated in the crime, I would do a lot more than what Mahinda Rajapakse has done to ensure justice is served.

Until you do something about it Mr. President, all heads are turned your way.

I too stand for all things right and noble. I too respect and understand the value of media freedom and human rights. But some of these questions need to be answered, and thus far no neutral entity has written about both sides of the story. Everyone plays the blame game and the buck stops at Rajapakse's table.

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