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SRI LANKA: A revelation paid for with death

Basil Fernando

An article written by the assassinated Sri Lankan journalist, Lasantha Wickramatunga, predicting his own killing by the government, has become the most widely circulated piece of journalism by any Sri Lankan writer so far.

The event he predicted took place on January 8; and the article was published in The Sunday Leader, three days later. In this  article Mr. Wickramatunga said, “When finally I am killed it will be the government that kills me.” He went on to predict that there would be no genuine inquiry into his murder.

Addressing Sri Lankan president Mahinda Rajapaksa, he wrote: “In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.”

Now a week has passed since his death and his prediction has proved true. Speeches have been made promising an inquiry into the incident, but no inquiry has been conducted, nor has anyone been arrested. This prediction of the sabotage of any inquiry into the killing is a revelation that no one interested in the security of citizens and human rights can afford to ignore.

For quite some time now in Sri Lanka, inquiries into politically sensitive matters have turned out to be bogus, lacking seriousness and devoid of political will to uncover the crime. The conduct of bogus investigations itself is an encouragement for similar occurrences as it sends a clear message to would-be killers that the crimes they are to commit will not be investigated in any credible manner.

The conduct of bogus inquiries is therefore part of the scheme of the killing itself. The components of a killing consist of the selection of a target by someone in authority and then the communication of the information to the killers who are to carry out the design. The next stage is done through sophisticated communications with the police hierarchy to ensure that some playacting regarding the investigations should take place without the possibility of gathering any information that may lead to the discovery of the killers.

The next part of the plan is to carry out an extensive propaganda campaign creating doubt and confusion about the possible culprits by references to international or political conspiracies to discredit the government and the like. Such propaganda work may be done by high-ranking politicians and the messages can be carried through the antennas of the state media.

Two days before Mr. Wickramatunga’s killing there was a serious attack that caused extensive damage to a well known private media channel, Sirasa TV. The kind  of “inquiry” that is taking place into this incident also confirms the accuracy of Mr. Wickramatunga’s prediction with regard to “investigations” that follow such politically sensitive crimes.

In this instance a government spokesman declared in a speech to Parliament that the Sirasa TV staff in collusion with the Opposition United National Party (UNP) had carried out this attack on their own. On January 14, Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the president, addressing the nation through the TV, said that the attack was carried out by staff of Sirasa TV in order to claim insurance.

Under the Criminal Procedure Code of Sri Lanka, the investigation of crimes is a task that belongs to the police. The police, after conducting their investigation, should submit a report to the attorney general, who in Sri Lanka performs of the task of public prosecutor. The attorney general should then study the file and analyze the evidence against any of the suspects identified by the investigators.

If further investigation is needed, the attorney general can order this. Finally, it is the duty of the attorney general to decide whether to proceed with the prosecution. Once this is done the case goes to a High Court, and after a fair trial it is the duty of the trial judge to decide whether the suspects are guilty or otherwise. Such is the process of law. In this instance the secretary of defense has himself acted as the investigator and also as the judge. He has declared to the nation who the culprits of this offense are. This is a clear instance of interference into the due process of law. This virtually predetermines the investigation’s outcome.

The police investigators would need a lot of backbone if they were to come to a different conclusion than that of the secretary of defence. That was possible at one time when the police system was less politicized and less controlled by the executive. But it is a fact that has been accepted by the Sri Lankan Parliament itself that, like several other public institutions, the policing system has been completely politicized.

Under these circumstances nothing more can be expected from the investigation into this serious crime. As for the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga, he has himself predicted the outcome of the inquiry into his death.

Several other serious crimes, such as the assassinations of about 30 persons, including a former general, Janaka Perera and a local politician, Dr. Rajah Johnpulle, a grenade attack on the house of J.C. Weliamuna, a lawyer involved in litigation into human rights abuses and anti-graft cases, and the killing of Sugath Nishanta Fernando, a witness in a bribery case, and a torture complaint against several police officers are just some examples of many such crimes that have come to the notice of the public in recent times.

Perhaps Sri Lanka today is the worst country in the world when it comes to investigations into crimes. The government no longer believes that it has an inescapable obligation to investigate all crimes.

Posted on 2009-08-04
Asian Human Rights Commission

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