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Wickramatunge killers remain unpunished

(IFJ/IFEX) - January 8, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists notes with deep anger and sorrow, that a full year after the daylight murder of Lasantha Wickramatunge in a busy Colombo street, there has been little credible progress in the investigation into an event that caused worldwide outrage.

Speaking to the IFJ, Lasantha's brother, Lal Wickramatunge, chairman of the Leader group of publications, recounts a story of apathy and indifference.

"There have been hearings of the case every two weeks," he says, "but no evidence of any progress in identifying the guilty."

On January 7, a day before the one year anniversary of Wickramatunge's murder, the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Sri Lankan police reported that the cause of Lasantha's death was a head injury inflicted by a sharp weapon and not a gunshot wound as previously believed.

The IFJ regrets that a basic detail, essential for the murder investigation, has only now been unambiguously clarified, despite repeated requests from Wickramatunge's family that the full forensic report into the murder be placed before the court.

The IFJ observes that the course of the investigation runs contrary to the assurances held out from the highest level of the Sri Lankan government, notably the announcement by President Mahinda Rajapakse on January 27 last year in response to worldwide outrage, that a breakthrough in the investigations was imminent.

Two days after this assurance by President Rajapakse, police arrested two taxi drivers in Colombo. One was released soon afterwards. The sole detainee today, identified as B. Sugatha Perera, can be held guilty of no crime more serious than stealing a mobile phone from Wickramatunge's person, perhaps as he was being transferred to hospital, grievously wounded on January 8 last year.

The IFJ notes that at a hearing of the case in November, a lawyer representing the Wickramatunge family expressed dissatisfaction with the investigation and asked for a judicial direction transferring the case from the jurisdiction of the local police to the CID, which is a specialised agency of the Sri Lankan police. On December 10, the investigations were formally handed over to the CID on a directive from Sri Lanka's top police official, Inspector-General Victor Perera.

In effect, the case remains where it was when the preliminary inquest into the murder was held. Wickramatunge's widow, Sonali Samarasinghe, had at that time asked that the investigation be handed over to the CID, assisted if possible by international forensic experts. Her request, made within a week of the murder, was reiterated at a February 18 hearing. And on March 15, Sonali Samarasinghe addressed a letter to Sri Lanka's President, reminding him of numerous public assurances he and his ministers had held out, that justice would be done.

"In a long history of tension between the media community and authorities in Sri Lanka, Lasantha's murder was a clear turning point", IFJ General Secretary, Aidan White said. "It led to an enveloping mood of terror among Sri Lanka's journalists, compelling many of them to leave the country."

"With peace now being restored to Sri Lanka after a quarter century long civil war, we expect the Government to credibly address all the abuses of the past in a spirit of transparency and accountability. Restoring the freedom and autonomy of the media, which were gravely imperilled through the years of conflict, would be a necessary part of the process of national reconciliation. The Lasantha Wickramatunge murder is a test case in this respect", said White.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION
Case history


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