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Who betrayed Journalist Richard de Zoysa?

by Ravindra Irugalbandara

(February 26, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Sri Lanka’s independent media coming under continuous threat intimidation and arson attack. Freedom of Expression has become a very significant issue and the Government tries to keep the Independent Media silence. Police investigations are leading to nowhere.

Richard De Zoysa was an unbiased Journalist, poet, playwright, actor, human rights activist and a broadcaster. His 21st death anniversary was fallen on last week on February 18th. Similarly, I happened to read a well crafted Article published in Asian Tribune News site on 20th February about Richard titled-Vacuum left by Richard-An Elegy and I wanted to expose the media hypocrisy over Richard’s death by, self proclaimed Editor who says he stick on the Ethic of Journalism, Victor Ivan of the Sinhala editorial “Ravaya”.

Current position of his newspaper Ravaya has come out with set of articles over a facebook revolution would happen in Sri Lanka. Most of his contributing writers are obsessed with a Utopia and expecting people will take the street. How this would happen, did any people take to the street when the Gen-Sarath Fonseka jailed? except political parties. Did any people take the street when 18th amendment implemented? Will any people take the street against the current cost of living?

While expose some minor corruptions of the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government, Ravaya editor makes sure he would not criticize Mahinda Rajapaksa either his son’s role or his siblings governing. While he gives orations abut Media Freedom, he participates Temple Trees briefings by the President followed by five star morning breakfast with Tea and Coffee. While claiming he is a giant in safeguarding the Media Freedom, he makes sure not to raise any issues at the President’s briefings about the current intimidation, threat and arson attack on the independent media take place under the Government. For instance, January 13th a media briefing was called by the President at the Temple Trees. During the media briefing, reliable sources said that not a single Editor including Victor Ivan had a self confidence to ask from the President about the ongoing investigations of slain Lasantha Wickramatunhe or Columnist Prageeth Eknelligoa. Particularly, various threats and the intimidation over Media Personal and Institutions only Mr.Lal Wickramatunege (Lasantha’s brother) chairman of Leader Publications was asked the ongoing investigations directly from the President while others were tight lipped.

Making Richard a Martyr

In 1994, when Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranayake’s presidential election campaign was launched, Media Freedom was highlighted as their main election pledge. A Man, a battle scarred veteran of the first JVP insurgency 1971 was Victor Ivan (Podi Athula) and with the assistance from Peace Activist who was also an activist of the same insurgency Sunanda Deshappriya. Both formed “Alliance for Democracy” backed up by the Free Media Movement. Alliance for Democracy played a major role in braining Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranayake into power. One of their main strategies deployed by then was portraying slain IPS Journalist Mr. Richard de Zoysa as a Martyr of the cause of Freedom of Expression in Sri Lanka. After coming to power, many developments took place and the Alliance for Democracy fell apart one section becoming the dish washers of the Presidential Palace those like Victor Ivan. Though much was said about Richard de Zoysa then (even to appoint an independent commission to investigate murder of De Zoysa under Chandrika’s regime) but he was occasionally remembered after 1994 and the call for an independent commission into his murder never materialized.

Meantime, The Island newspaper in several it’s Editorials asked why the official inquiry that was demanded when the UNP was in power was not initiated by the PA government backed by person like Victor Ivan and there was no response.(Victor Ivan was then unofficial Media Advisor to the President Chandrika).

Making Richard a Traitor / the Betrayal

Unfortunately then, few weeks ago Mother of Richard de Zoysa Dr. Manorani Sarawanamuttu died. Her death became a Bless for Victor Ivan for which he may had been waiting for. All of a sudden, Victor Ivan dropped a Bombshell in an article of his own newspaper Ravaya (keley pattare) or newspaper (the same article(s) has been reproduced in his book “Innocence of the Pen questioned”) which he stated that, then the acting minister of defense Ranjan Wijerathne wanted to kill Richard de Zoysa not because of he was a Journalist but a JVP activist. (Writer’s note-Ranjan Wijerathne of his team “Ops Combine” operated clandestinely while located at Havelock Road by Major General Cicil Vyaddyaaratne and they never wanted to kill Richard nor wanted to arrest or abduct. They were very clear that Richard was not a JVP er).

Mr. Victor Ivan who preached during the Presidential campaign that Richard is a Martyr, soon after the death of Richard’s mother, he published Richard as JVP Activist. He further stated in his jungle newspaper Ravaya or the keley pattare, Richard de Zoysa associated closely with some JVP leaders, though this was not known to public. (Writer’s note-who associate JVP in public then, sine it was banned and operated underground). He further said his close friends (his means whether Ivan’s or Richard? Not clearly mentioned) and his mother knew about it. The present JVP leader, comrade Somawansa Amarasinghe had been stayed in a house of a friend of Richard which had been entrusted to Richard shortly before the JVP leader fled the country on exile. Ricahrd’s mother was against the appointment of an independent commission because she was feared that these inquiries reveal such secrets. Ivan further said in his newspaper. Ivan being a Hypocrite and a coward was waiting till Richard’s mother dies to reveal this information and meantime treat her death as a Bless for him.

The whole country knew that after the Death of her Son Richard, her whole life was dedicated to see those who are accountable being punished by the law, despite the grave threats for her life and her lawyer Mr.Batty Werakoon. She was never against for any kind of investigation or a commission.

The other fact is, what is of relevance to the public is, why Ivan having known about Richard de Zoysa being a JVP activist, made him a hero and Martyr in the name of Journalism? As a person who defend morality and high standard of Journalism Ethics, by nor revealing this fact. Had he hoodwink the public as a newspaper Editor? If Ivan knew of De Zoysa’s JVP links, would he not have told his close buddies in the Alliance for Democracy then? Thus, was there a conspiracy of silence and distortion of the truth?

All these raised, Victor Ivan was really envy and hatred over Richard’s Journalistic skills specially being a charismatic young Journalist to be a bureau chief of an international press agency (Inter Press Service) at the age of thirty two. As per Ivan, having known that Richard was a JVP activist closely associating the JVP leaders and having arrange refuge to Somawansa Aamarasinhe to flee, was it Victor Ivan who tip-off then the President Premadasa’s PSD (Presidential security Division) to abduct and kill Richard de Zoysa? Whether Victor Ivan betrayed Richard?

*All these information’s and Ivan’s articles are available in his Book: Innocence of the pen questioned and the Sinhala version of the same book Pena Ahinsakada

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