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Death of democracy and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(July 21, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) Today marks 20 years of independent journalism among severe government censorship. Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered for his daredevil style of reporting who dared to start Sunday Leader 20 years ago today with nary a penny to his name.

He believed truth will triumph but truth and justice evaded him in that he paid with his life for exposing government corruption, political manoeuvring and public mishandling of funds.

Post his death those sycophants who rode on his name are now living a life of luxury in foreign climes earning scholarships and sympathies. These are vultures who are preying on his name while his journalist wife is struggling Down Under with their three children. The psychological impact on the family is hard to describe.

Lasantha is no more. He was killed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa; the brother of the President and defence secretary. To date, no suspects have been produced before court for his murder as with the other 37 or more media workers in Sri Lanka starting with Richard de Soysa in 1990.

Lasantha’s brother Lal Wickrematunge, in his recent interview with UK’s Press Gazette revealed the nitty gritty details of how armed gunmen shot him point blank as Lasantha set out to work past high security zone in Ratmalana on January 09, 2009.

Who killed Sivaram aka Taraki? Sivaram’s body was found in a paddy field adjoining parliament. Who killed Aiyathurai Nadesan, the BBC correspondent for Batticaloa and Colombo correspondent for Veerakesari? Is Douglas Devananda responsible for Nimalarajan’s murder, the BBC correspondent in the North? Where is Prageeth Ekneliyagoda. Just imagine what their families are going through.

Sandya, Prageeth’s wife is challenging the fork-tongued government sycophant Mohan Peiris and now attorney general appointed after Shirani Bandaranayake’s summary dismissal on his dubious outbursts to the media that he is in exile in a foreign clime.

The new BBC complex in Marble Arch in London has a separate office dedicated to Nimalarajan. But in Sri Lanka he is an unknown quantity. Frances Harrison, a former BBC correspondent in Colombo and Priyath Liyanage, the director of Sinhala Service at BBC world service in London had to raise funds to get his extended family out of Sri Lanka to seek refuge.

The ramifications on the family of intrepid and honest journalists who were murdered for their honesty and integrity are complex and deserve wider scrutiny. The psychological wounds in their family will take that much longer as their offspring question why their fathers did not consider them and put journalism over and above their welfare.

Relangi Selvarajah, long time anchor for Rupavahini and her husband were brutally murdered for their call in journalism. Tissanayagam from Sunday Times is now abroad and free at last after months of incarceration in Colombo prison under PTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act).

If Richard de Soysa’s murderers who were armed gunmen under President Premadasa are roaming scot-free and to date no suspects have been produced before court then there is something wrong with Sri Lanka’s democracy and particularly its judiciary.

Their deaths are not ordinary deaths. These martyrs will live on the conscience of the ruling governments for kingdom to come.

(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal;where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)

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