01/13/2010, 00.00
SRI LANKA

No justice for Lasantha, a year after the journalist’s murder

by Melani Manel Perera
Lasantha was assassinated in his car in broad daylight on 8 January 2009. A year later, hundreds of journalists gather to remember him and slam the government for its inaction in tracking down the culprits. In Sri Lanka, tens of journalists have been assaulted or forced to flee the country.
Colombo (AsiaNews) – More than 200 journalists and human rights activists gathered at the Lipton Circle in Colombo to demand justice for Lasantha Wickrematunge, an investigative journalist who was murdered on 8 January last year. Organised by five media groups, the protest action was designed to highlight the authorities’ failure to find those responsible.

Demonstrators took over the square for about an hour, shouting slogans and brandishing placards in Sinhala, Tamil and English that read, “One year lapsed since Lasantha's killing: Where are the Killers?",  "Stop Media Suppression" , “Shame on you – no proper investigation of Lasantha’s assassination” and “ Give freedom to the media which reveal the truth to civilians”. 

The government is really on the hot seat in this case and some wonder whether it “was involved directly in the murder and for this reason is not taking action to bring the culprits to justice.”

Protesters said they would carry out more protests until all media are free in the country.

Lasantha was the editor of The Sunday Leader; he was killed in his car. His newspaper had criticised the government for widespread corruption, the war against the Tamil Tigers and human rights violations, among other things.

Brother Lional, a Franciscan from the diocese of Kurunegala, told AsiaNews that he “condemned the brutal killing of a journalist like Lasantha” as well as the authorities’ “deadly silence over the killing. We can see that there is no law in the country.”

Attorney S.G. Punchihewa, a well-known media rights activist, said, “We are protesting because democracy and freedom have been totally suppressed. Even the law is not functioning.”

Activist Sudharshana Gunawardana, who organised another protest action at Colombo’s Jayawardana Centre on 8 January, anniversary of the killing, noted, “A year after the murder the government is sleeping. It appears that the government is not taking any interest” in finding the culprits. “We lost a fearless journalist. [. . .] It is hard to find a journalist like him.”

Opposition leaders and presidential candidates like Sirithunga Jayasooriyua and Pakyasothi Sarawanamuththu have also picked up Lasantha’s case.

Last week, media watchdog Reporters without Borders remembered Lasantha, expressing its “anger” over the “government’s flagrant obstruction of the investigation”.

According to some sources, 14 Sri Lankan journalists and media workers have been murdered since 2006. In none of these cases were the culprits ever brought to justice.

Similarly, many journalists left the country after receiving death threats. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, at least 11 Sri Lankan reporters have been forced to flee the country in the past year.  Others have been assaulted and some arrested. 

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