(Memorial service to mark the seventh death anniversary of Lasantha Wickrematunge)
- Military implicated in five key assassinations during former regime.
- AG under pressure by military and defence establishment to stop cases.
While there were simple celebrations to mark the first anniversary of Sirisena’s ascension to power – a stark contrast to what was witnessed during the past two decades – there were also many events held to remind Sirisena and his government of the pledges that were made an year ago.
It now seems that the civil society in the country pays serious consideration to the issue of accountability and is not prepared to let the country slip back to the situation it was prior to January 8th of 2015.
The joint opposition led by Kurunegala District parliamentarian Mahinda Rajapaksa, waiting for a chance to wriggle back to power, announced the raising of black flags to mark the first anniversary of yahapalanaya. However, the campaign that was announced by UPFA MP Udaya Gammanpila failed to take off the ground.
Meanwhile, the JVP that extended an unofficial form of support to Sirisena in the run up to the last Presidential election organized a march from the Kohuwela junction followed by a rally in Nugegoda last Friday. All party seniors participated in the rally along with members of several civil society groups. The theme of the rally was ‘Respect the people’s mandate and honour the pledges made a year ago’.
Addressing the rally, JVP Leader, MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake and party politburo member K. D. Lalkantha questioned whether the government had honored its pledges made to the people.
They questioned whether justice had been meted out to the people, especially the media.
Lalkantha, who attended the memorial service held to mark the seventh anniversary of the assassination of the founding editor of The Sunday Leader and Irudina newspapers, Lasantha Wickrematunge charged that an year after the new government assumed office, justice was yet to be served to Wickrematunge as well as a large number of journalists who have been threatened, harassed, attacked, disappeared and assassinated.
It is an obviously hard path that the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government would have to tread during its second year. Starting from the anniversary of the new government – January 8th will always be a day that marks a tragedy as wells as a victory.
The tragedy – the anniversary of Lasantha Wickrematunge’s assassination. The victory – the anniversary where the people showed that the power of the ballot was much more than the powers accumulated by rulers on a dictatorial path.
Yet, the government of good governance has to also deal with the fact that the month of January is Black January for the media fraternity in the country. The month of January was declared ‘Black January’ to mark the oppression faced by the media and to mark the many attacks on media personnel and institutions in the past years.
The questions that were posed by many in the field of media last week was whether the government of good governance had managed to effectively address the issues faced by the media in the country.
Albeit journalists being able to now walk the streets without having to look over their shoulders at every corner or fear of being abducted in a white van, whether true media freedom has been established in the country is yet to be answered. True media freedom in the country can only be established when a journalist can engage in his/her profession without having to fear any form of threats or intimidation even by way of telephone calls from individuals holding high offices in the country.
True media freedom is when the country has in place laws that ensure the right to information along with the right of publication.
Last, but most certainly not least, is the fact that justice needs to be meted out to the journalists who have been attacked, abducted, disappeared and finally those who have paid the supreme price of sacrificing their lives to engage in their profession and tell the story.
Media freedom is a salient feature in a vibrant democracy, and Sri Lanka, which is said to be on a path towards re-establishing democracy, has to consider the depth of the matter. Otherwise, attacks and murder of journalists will continue to be mere numbers in a list that seems to have started since the assassination of journalist Richard de Zoysa in the late 1980.
In the front of investigations being conducted by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) into five high profile cases – murders of former MPs Joseph Pararajasingham and Nadaraja Raviraj, founding editor of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge and Sri Lanka rugby player Wasim Thajudeen as well as the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda – have shown the involvement of military personnel.
While the investigations are progressing, visible progress can be seen in only a few cases – Thajudeen and Eknaligoda. Visible progress is yet to be seen in the case of Wickrematunge’s murder.
Nevertheless, the implication of military personnel in these five cases has resulted in an ongoing conflict between the CID investigators and members of the country’s defence establishment.The conflict has also reached the Attorney General’s Department.
It is learnt that several suspects in the Eknaligoda case are in the process of speaking about the incident.
The possible implication of several senior members of the former Mahinda Rajapaksa regime has now compelled members of the joint opposition led by none other than Rajapaksa himself to visit the military intelligence personnel currently in custody over their alleged involvement in Eknaligoda’s disappearance. The Sunday Leader reliably learns that the Commander of the Army has appointed Lieutenant Colonel Chandika Mahathanthila as the Deputy Chief of National Intelligence in order to coordinate matters related to the suspects of the military in remand over the Eknaligoda case.
Apart from this appointment, several senior members of the military have convinced Defence Secretary Karu Hettiarachchi to ensure that the intelligence officers are prevented from speaking further about the Eknaligoda case and to ensure their release.
The Commander of the Army, along with the head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence, S. Salley and Lt. Colonel Mahathanthila, it is learnt, have also made an attempt to get the State Counsel, Dileepa Peiris, appearing in the Eknaligoda case removed from the case.Be that as it may, Solicitor General Suhada Gamlath had shot down the request saying such actions will not be resorted to at the Attorney General’s Department.
However, the suspects in the Eknaligoda case are in the Prison Hospital and provided with all that is required by them.
One of the suspects in the Eknaligoda case, Colonel Shammi Kumararatne, it is learnt, is facing another probe by the CID. The new probe is related to a murder that had taken place around 2007.
The CID has found that the army in 2007 had uncovered a three wheeler and the body of soldier Argen Premakumara from the Girithale Camp during some excavation work in the camp using a backhoe.
Kumararatne at the time was the second in command at the Girithale camp. The inquiry had been carried out by the Polonnaruwa Police at the time. However, OIC Crimes at the Polonnaruwa Police at the time, Jayathileka had faced much pressure from certain sections of the military. Finally, Jayathileka had reportedly shot himself and his death remains a mystery, according to sources from the police. Also, then ASP Joseph in the Polonnaruwa Police had also pulled out of the case.
Also, one of Kumararatne’s loyalists Ravindra Rupasinghe alias Ranjith, who is the fifth suspect in the Eknaligoda case, was found in 2012 selling boat engines that once belonged to the LTTE.
Investigations have also found that Ranjith had also served as a bodyguard to former Eastern Province Chief Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan.
Pillayan is in custody and is a key suspect in the murders of Pararajasingham and Raviraj. Given that the government of good governance has now passed its one year mark, it is now time for action.
After all the deadlines set by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last year, which were accepted by the government, are now nearing