Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | January 9, 2015 | 10:20 am IST As Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa concedes defeat in the 2015 presidential elections, and the country looks forward to radical change and a better future - we must take a moment to look back at a man called Lasantha Wickremantunge – who set a trend in investigative journalism and questioned authority, when the country most needed it. It is now one day over six years to the date, when Lasantha Wickrematunge, a Sri Lankan journalist was murdered on his way to office after an unidentified gunman on a motorbike shot the editor of the “Sunday Leader”, a renowned paper in the country. Lasantha started The Sunday Leader in 1994 and was its Editor- in-Chief till he was murdered on January 8, 2009. A lawyer by profession, he practiced in the chambers of President’s Counsel Ranjith Abeysuriya until he decided to take a break to practice journalism.  Often described as one of the bravest journalists, he brought about social change and the intuitive nature of people that lay dormant inside them. The global attention received for his assassination is often considered as the turning point in the country’s journalism. According to this report in The Sunday Leader, he was physically assaulted, shot at, the printing presses burnt down twice, and the newspaper shut down under the draconian Emergency Laws before being murdered in January, 2009. Not a single of these crimes have been solved. (Lasantha's car after the ambush) Lasantha Wickrematunge had also printed a series of stories on official corruption, many of them focusing on Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Mahinda’s younger brother who served as the secretary of defence. During the time he was editor-in-chief of the Sunday Leader, two cases of defamation were filed against him by Gotabaya Rajapaksa, concerning two articles that appeared that included profiles of Rajapaksa and a late LTTE leader. (Mahinda Rajapaksa, Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, and Lasantha Wickrematunge) However, the issue did not just end with the assassination. According to a report in The Telegraph, Frederica Jansz who became editor of “The Sunday Leader” after her predecessor also received a row of death threats. “After that, I was being followed home by men on motorbikes. People were saying there was a good chance I was going to go the same way as Lasantha had. The writing was on the wall.” She was quoted as saying. A 2500 word editorial Lasantha wrote a few days before his death is often considered as his voice from the grave as he foresees his own death, claims that the government would be behind it and talks of what he sees as his country's descent into persecution of citizens and flouting of democracy. “When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me," he wrote and with special mention to Mahinda Rajapaksa adds that “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” The editorial titled “And then they came for me” was published on January 11, that year – sparked a lot of media outrage and was seen as an attack on democracy. Lasantha was also named as the laureate of the 2009 World Press Freedom Prize by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Six years later, Rajapaksa who was seeking his third term in office with these elections made the announcement, thus intending to hand over power to Maithripala Sirisena, his former health minister, one of Rajapaksa’s closest allies who decided to contest against the leader in this week’s presidential elections In his last paragraph, Lasantha aptly sums it up saying “Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.” Read the full editorial here. (Picture Courtesy - SriLanka Gaurdian) Tweet Follow @thenewsminute Read Sri Lanka President Rajapaksa concedes defeat in elections