The Info List - Lasantha Wickrematunge

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Lasantha Manilal Wickrematunge (5 April 1958 – 8 January 2009) was a Sri Lankan journalist, politician and human rights activist who was assassinated in January 2009. Wickrematunge was the founder of The Sunday Leader
The Sunday Leader
and Leader Publications alongside his brother and was known for taking "governments of all hues to task", was a "virulent critic of the Mahinda Rajapaksa
Mahinda Rajapaksa
government", and had been "locked in a legal battle with the president's brother, defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who was spearheading the battle against the LTTE
rebels. Wickrematunge's assassination caused a national frenzy being the country's most influential media personnel and one of the biggest political figures and raised questions about freedom of expression in the country. Wickrematunge's murder was widely condemned across the world. The Daily Mirror called it the "biggest blow" to media freedom in Sri Lanka, and the Editors Guild held the government responsible for the killing as it has failed to stop attacks against media personnel. The government also expressed shock at the killing, pledging to do everything in its power to catch his killers. Wickrematunge had been on Amnesty International's endangered list since 1998, when anti-tank shells were fired on his house.


1 Early life 2 Career

2.1 Political career 2.2 Journalism

3 Death

3.1 International Reaction 3.2 Investigation

4 Awards 5 Posthumous editorial 6 Bibliography

6.1 Books

7 See also 8 References

Early life[edit] Lasantha Wickrematunge
Lasantha Wickrematunge
was the youngest of six born in Kotahena Colombo
to Chandra and Harris Wickrematunge, a prominent politician, who had served as a municipal councillor for 30 years and was former deputy mayor, Wickrematunge was the grandnephew of George E. de Silva. In his childhood Wickrematunge attended St Benedict’s College where he excelled at cricket. Wickrematunge spent his adolescence in Britain, where he graduated high school and eventually returned to Sri Lanka, where he started law school. Career[edit] Political career[edit] Wickrematunge began his career as a lawyer, practicing as a defense attorney for eight years.[1][2] Whilst practicing law, Wickrematunge made his way into the political scene before entering into journalism starting with the Island and Sun newspapers. Wickrematunge ran for election from a Colombo
seat with the Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
Freedom Party and then became the private secretary to the world's first female prime minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Wickrematunge then crossed parties moving to the United National Party
United National Party
and was advisor to Ranil Wickremasinghe and was often dubbed as the De facto opposition leader [2] Journalism[edit] In 1994 Wickrematunge started the Sunday Leader
Sunday Leader
with his brother Lal Wickrematunge.[1][3] He reported critically on both the government and the Tamil Tiger
Tamil Tiger
(LTTE) rebels,[4] and the Leader soon "became well known as the island's best independent newspaper".[5] He later stated that once the paper was started, he had intended to return to law, but found himself unwilling to give up journalism's excitement.[1] He was also a reporter for Time magazine
Time magazine
and was a political commentator and hosted several programs includingGood Morning Sri Lanka.[6] The paper quickly drew threats and attacks for its reporting on corruption by government ministers. In 1995, men pulled Wickrematunge and his first wife, Raine, out of their car and attacked them with clubs. Raine later stated that the death threats became part of the routine of their lives: "There were so many threatening calls. 'We are going to kill you. We are going to kill your children.'"[7] In 2000, the government tried Wickrematunge for criminal libel of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, but Wickrematunge received no major penalties.[8] In 2002, Raine left him due to the constant threats against their family, taking their three children to Australia.[7] The Leader was particularly critical in its coverage of President Mahinda Rajapaksa.[1] In 2008, Mahinda Rajapaksa, furious over the paper's reporting, called Wickrematunge and shouted at him that he would be killed if the paper's coverage did not change;[7] the president had also described him as a "terrorist journalist".[9] Later, after the assassination of Wickrematunge the paper was allegedly bought over by a Rajapaksa associate and an unconditional apology was made to Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Gotabaya Rajapaksa
for publishing a series of reports suggesting that he had made corrupt arms deals.[10][11][12] In the weeks before Wickrematunge's death, a funeral wreath was delivered to him, as well as a copy of the newspaper reading "If you write you will be killed" in red paint.[7] In an editorial Wickremange had written shortly before his death, and that was published posthumously, he stated, "When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me."[13] Death[edit] Wickrematunge was shot while he was on his way to work around 10:30 a.m. on 8 January 2009 few days before he was supposed to give evidence about Gotabhaya Rajapaksa's corruption in arms deals before a judge.[14][15] Four armed assassins riding motorcycles blocked Wickrematunge's vehicle before breaking open his window and shooting him.[16] He was taken to the Colombo
South General Hospital (Kalubowila). It was initially planned with a helicopter on standby to transfer him to the Colombo
National Hospital. A specialist team of 20 of medical personnel were called in for the surgery. Despite surgery lasting nearly three hours, Wickrematunge died from his head wounds.[8] International Reaction[edit] Wickrematunge's assassination caused an international outcry. Reporters Without Borders said that " Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
has lost its more talented, courageous and iconoclastic journalists," and said that “President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press".[17] President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Mahinda Rajapaksa
described the assassination as an attempt to discredit the government and said he was both grieved and shocked and stated that he had instructed a thorough police inquiry and called the assassination an international conspiracy.[18] The opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe
Ranil Wickremesinghe
observed that it was part of an anti-democratic conspiracy and accused the government of attempting to silence its critics.[19] The United National Party, Sri Lanka's main opposition party, also staged a demonstration in the parliament on 9 January to protest his killing.[20][21] The assassination was condemned by Norway, the United States, the United Kingdom, the European Union, India and Japan, the United Nations strongly condemned the assassination while the World Bank expressed its concerns over the attack.[22] President Mahinda Rajapaksa told Time (magazine) about Wickrematunge: "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."The British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, said in a statement and condemned the killing of Wickrematunge and said that it was the duty of the authorities to take prompt action into these incidents. “We condemn such brazen attacks. Of particular concern was the murder, on 8 January, of the Chief Editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper, Lasantha Wickrematunge. The Sri Lankan authorities have a duty to take prompt action to ensure that a thorough and independent investigation is carried out,” he said. In a statement ahead of World Press Freedom Day Ban Ki Moon
Ban Ki Moon
called on the government of Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
to ensure that those responsible for Lasantha Wickrematunge's murder are found and prosecuted. Time (magazine) called his death "A personal loss to Time" Wickrematunge's widow of 13 days, Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge, fled the country a month after Wickrematunge's death and now calls herself an editor in exile. Investigation[edit] After denying all responsibility for the attack Rajapaksa government called for an investigation. Despite intense media pressure, no one was arrested, and Sri Lankan media speculated that the murder investigation may "end up as a cover-up", and that safeguards for an independent media appears bleak.[23][24][25] After Mahinda Rajapaksa's defeat at the presidential election in 2015, the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena
Maithripala Sirisena
reopened the investigation over allegations that former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa ordered the assassination.[26][27][28] Ranil Wickremesinghe, the current Prime Minister, accused Sarath Fonseka, the former army commander, of the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge in 2008 and 2009.[29][30] In 2011, the former MP Rajiva Wijesinha told BBC Sinhala Service that the British High Commission in Colombo
had told him it possessed evidence that former military chief Gen Sarath Fonseka
Sarath Fonseka
was involved in the assassination of the Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickremetunge.[31] According to Sarath Fonseka the order for the assassination was given by Gotabaya[32] In 2016 a retired intelligence officer committed suicide and left a note claiming he is the killer and the intelligence officers that were arrested in investigating are innocent.[15][33] Awards[edit] In 2009, Wickrematunge posthumously won the UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize.[3] He was also awarded the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism of Harvard University's Nieman Foundation[2] the James Cameron Memorial Trust Award, and the American National Press Club's John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award.[34] In 2010, Wickrematunge was declared a World Press Freedom Hero of the International Press Institute.[35] In 2016 the East West Center, Hawaii conferred the 2016 Courageous Journalism Award on Lasantha. Posthumous editorial[edit] Following his death, the Sunday Leader
Sunday Leader
carried a posthumous editorial[36] by Wickrematunge, in which he blamed the government directly[37] for assassinating journalists as its "primary tool" for controlling the media. He wrote:

"No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last."[36]

The editorial meditated on why Wickrematunge continued his reporting despite threats to his life: "After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice. But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy".[36] The editorial's publication caused a "furor" in the nation, with thousands of mourners turning out for Wickrematunge's funeral.[37] Bibliography[edit] Books[edit]

And Then They Came For me Raine Wickrematunge The Cage (Weiss book) The Man Within My Head: Graham Greene, My Father and Me Pico Iyer'

See also[edit]

Notable assassinations of the Sri Lankan Civil War Human rights in Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremasinghe Gotabhaya Rajapaksa


^ a b c d Thottam, Jyoti (8 January 2009). "Dying for Journalism: Lasantha Wickrematunge
Lasantha Wickrematunge
of Sri Lanka". Time. Retrieved 10 January 2009.  ^ a b c "Lasantha Wickrematunge, 1958–2009". Nieman Foundation. Archived from the original on 14 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.  ^ a b "Slain Sri Lankan journalist honoured with UN press freedom award". United Nations News Centre. 6 April 2009. Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.  ^ "Sri Lanka's Lasantha Wickrematunge
Lasantha Wickrematunge
Named 53rd IPI World Press Freedom Hero". International Press Institute. 18 February 2010. Archived from the original on 14 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.  ^ Steele, Jonathan (12 January 2009). "'We know who is behind my death': Sri Lankan editor continues fight from grave". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.  ^ "A deadly drive to work". The Sunday Leader. 11 January 2009. Archived from the original on 13 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.  ^ a b c d Gentleman, Amelia (16 January 2009). "If you write you'll be killed". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 14 September 2012. Retrieved 12 September 2012.  ^ a b "Top Sri Lankan editor shot dead". BBC News. 8 January 2009. Retrieved 8 January 2009.  ^ Mallawarachi, Bharatha (12 January 2010). "Sri Lankans demand justice for slain editor". Associated Press  – via  HighBeam Research (subscription required). Retrieved 12 September 2012.  ^ "Editor Of Sunday Leader
Sunday Leader
Forced To Resign Once Again". Colombo Telegraph. 19 February 2015. Retrieved 6 June 2015.  ^ " Sunday Leader
Sunday Leader
tenders unconditional apology to Gotabaya". adaderana. 6 March 2015. Retrieved 6 June 2015.  ^ Haviland, Charles. "Fears for Sri Lanka's outspoken Leader". BBC. Retrieved 22 September 2015.  ^ "Sri Lankan editor row escalates". BBC News. 13 January 2009. Retrieved 13 September 2012.  ^ Sirilal, Ranga; Hull, Bryson; Richardson, Alex (10 January 2009). "Gunmen shoot editor of Sri Lankan opposition paper". Reuters. Retrieved 10 January 2009.  ^ a b "economynext.com". www.economynext.com. Retrieved 2016-10-14.  ^ Luft, Oliver (8 January 2009). "Sri Lankan newspaper editor shot dead". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 10 January 2009.  ^ Lawson, Alastair. "Grievous blow to Sri Lankan media". BBC. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ Jansz, Frederica. "A Government Cover-Up". Sunday Leader. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ Reddy, Muralidhar. "Editor of Sri Lankan daily assassinated". The Hindu. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ "Sri Lankan journalists, media rights act". Getty Images. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ Hull, Bryson. "Anger rises over killing of Sri Lankan editor". Reuters. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ "US, UK, India condemn attacks". BBC. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ Thottam, Jyoti. "Dying for Journalism: Lasantha Wickrematunge
Lasantha Wickrematunge
of Sri Lanka". Time. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ "Lasantha murder: No police progress despite Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
President promise". Tamil Week. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ Perera, Melani. "No justice for Lasantha, a year after the journalist's murder". Asian News. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ " Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
to reopen investigation into 2009 murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge". International Federation of Journalists. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ " Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
to reopen Lasantha murder case". Colombo
Mirror. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ " Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka
to recommence probe on high-profile assassinations". Department of Government Information. Retrieved 6 September 2015.  ^ "Who Is Sarath Fonseka". The Sunday Leader. Retrieved 8 January 2012.  ^ "S Lankan general 'behind attacks'". BBC News. Retrieved 8 July 2008.  ^ "British HC in Colombo
has evidence of SF's involvement in Lasantha killing". The Island. Retrieved 11 April 2012.  ^ [newsfirst.lk/english/2016/09/fireworks-parliament-killed-lasanthafield-marshal-fonseka-responds/149363 "Fireworks in Parliament: Who Killed Lasantha?Field Marshal Fonseka responds…"] Check url= value (help).  ^ "Alleged suicide note: Rtd. Army officer claims he killed Lasantha". Retrieved 2016-10-14.  ^ "Lasantha Was Murdered 3 Years Ago: Remembering Lasantha". The Sunday Leader. 8 January 2012. Archived from the original on 15 September 2012. Retrieved 15 September 2012.  ^ "World Press Freedom Heroes: Symbols of courage in global journalism". International Press Institute. 2012. Archived from the original on 16 January 2012. Retrieved 26 January 2012.  ^ a b c Wickrematunge, Lasantha (11 January 2009). "And Then They Came For Me". The Sunday Leader.  ^ a b Nessman, Ravi (13 January 2009). "Slain journalist's 'J'accuse' ignites furor in Sri Lanka". Toronto Star. Retrieved 13 September 2012. 

v t e

UNESCO/Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize laureates

Gao Yu (1997) Christina Anyanwu (1998) Jesús Blancornelas
Jesús Blancornelas
(1999) Nizar Nayyouf (2000) Win Tin
Win Tin
(2001) Geoffrey Nyarota (2002) Amira Hass
Amira Hass
(2003) Raúl Rivero (2004) Cheng Yizhong (2005) May Chidiac (2006) Anna Politkovskaya
Anna Politkovskaya
(2007) Lydia Cacho Ribeiro
Lydia Cacho Ribeiro
(2008) Lasantha Wickrematunge
Lasantha Wickrematunge
(2009) Mónica González Mujica
Mónica González Mujica
(2010) Ahmad Zeidabadi (2011) Eynulla Fatullayev
Eynulla Fatullayev
(2012) Reeyot Alemu (2013) Ahmet Şık
Ahmet Şık
(2014) Mazen Darwish
Mazen Darwish
(2015) Khadija