Feet-dragging over Lasantha's grave
Police Spokesman admits failure to arrest suspects :
It has been seven years since the founding editor of the Sunday
Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge was brutally murdered on January 8, 2009.
One of the staunchest critics of the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government,
he was killed while on his way to work, inside a high security zone in
the Ratmalana area, a Colombo suburb, just minutes away from his office.
But after six long years of investigations, police have been unable
to locate any definite clues as to who was behind the heinous crime.
Even the magisterial process at the Mount Lavinia courts is proceeding
without any suspects.
However, rumours as to 'who-done-it' have been plenty.
Police Media Spokesperson ASP Ruwan Gunasekera admitted that police
have been unable to arrest any suspects connected with the crime. But in
the same breath said that investigations would not be suspended and will
proceed using available evidence.
What is clear however is that the investigation is at a virtually
standstill right now. The murder that gained international notoriety for
the then Mahinda Rajapaksa Government was for some time handled by the
Criminal Investigation Department (CID).
There have been persistent rumours that a high ranker within the
military was responsible for the murder. However, investigators say they
are yet to uncover any evidence indicating such a link.
Soon after the new Maithripala Sirisena Government took office in
January 2015, controversial ex-MP Mervyn Silva made a statement in which
he claimed that former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was linked
to the murder and many other such attacks during Rajapaksa's tenure.
When contacted, Silva this week however declined to comment any further
on what he told the CID.
Following Silva's statement, Wickrematunge's brother Lal
Wickrematunge also recorded a statement with the CID.
"I expect that my statement will be compared to that given by
ex-minister Silva and investigations will proceed at a satisfactory
level," Lal Wickrematunge said in March 2015, soon after his meeting
with the CID.
Nine months later, that does not seem to have taken place.
"The former government did not carry out any effective investigations
into the attacks against the media. Few weeks after the January 8
elections last year, I met President Sirisena as a representative of the
Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and I requested to
make these investigations much more efficient.
That has sadly not happened," said journalist and media activist,
However investigations initiated during the Rajapaksa administration
seemed to have yielded the best clues. Police say that these
investigations had gone as far as available evidence affords them to
proceed. The investigations were at a standstill because there was no
line of new evidence.
The initial investigations by the CID began under the direct
supervision of the then Inspector General of Police (IGP). The focus had
been on how the prominent journalist was killed.
"Initial investigations looked into the modus operandi - how the
murder was carried out. There were no spent shells or bullets recovered
from the murder scene or embedded in the victim's body. The conclusion
was that he was killed by assaulting him with something like a bayonet,"
an officer connected with the investigation said.
Then the attention shifted to mobile phone communications. Police
searched for Lasantha's phone but did not recover it from the victim's
possessions as it had been stolen. Police did recover the phone and a
suspect was in remand prison for over a year for having the phone in his
But he was later released as it was clear that he had no connection
to the murder.
Then, police zoomed in on mobile communications along the route that
Lasantha Wickrematunge took. Here, attention focused on five phones that
seemed to be on persons who were following Lasantha from the time he
left home. Investigators were able to access tracking data and found
that the phones kept moving along the same route that the slain editor
took on that fateful day.
All five SIM's had been bought under the name of one person, P
Jesudasan. He was a man who worked at a garage in Nuwera Eliya. His
arrest thus far remains the main and only worthwhile breakthrough in the
Jesudasan had revealed that military intelligence personnel
frequented the garage he worked at. He also told that he lost his ID
card while drinking with some acquaintances including some connected to
the military. He also said that he had reported its loss to police.
But investigations hit a snag when the suspect died of a heart attack
while in prison. Jesudasan was 40 years when he died on 13 October 2012
due to what was deemed as a blood clot in the brain, according to
medical reports. His family initially questioned the death but has not
A military intelligence officer who was taken into custody based on
Jesudasan's evidence was also later released.
Investigations were also stalled because whoever used the SIM cards
had inserted them in to brand new phones, and were active only for the
duration of 8 January 2009 and were used only to communicate among users
of the five other phones.
There were no other calls originated from or to any other phones from
those five telephones.
As time went by, officers who were involved in the investigation were
assigned other investigations or to other positions, further delaying
When President Sirisena revitalised the investigations in 2015, the
new case officers had to seek out those who had handled it in the past
to gain information. Among those interviewed by the new case officers
include former IGP Jayantha Wickremaratna. Officers have also been
looking into how log books where numbers of the vehicles that followed
Lasantha had been mysteriously lost.
Others who were interviewed included DIG Prasnna Nanayakkara, SSP
Hemantha Adikari and former OIC of Mount Lavinia, Mahesh Perera.
Despite the lack of evidence, police say that the murder was well
directed and coordinated.
Cabinet Spokesperson, Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said that investigations
will not be halted under any circumstances.
"The Media Ministry has requested the police to continue the
There is no need to stop the investigations into the attacks on
media, but there is pressure to do that from extremist groups. But we
will not do that."
Despite the words of commitment by the Cabinet Spokesperson,
scepticism remains high that the investigation is as good as being
Even those who supported Sirisena at the last election seem to doubt
that any further headway would be made.
"It is hard to believe that the investigations into Lasantha's murder
would be carried out effectively. In countries like Sri Lanka, those in
power are rarely prosecuted even after they leave office," Nirmal
Ranjith Dewasiri, the former chairman of the Federation of University
Teachers Associations, which was one of the leading civic groups that
supported Sirisena's candidacy, said.
Police spokesperson Gunasekera however echoed Senaratne's words and
said that investigations will continue.
"I am not in a position to divulge how the CID will proceed. But
there will be no slowdown."
But journalist and media activist Ruhunege is not convinced.
"Progress has been agonizingly slow, only dramatic change in that mode
would make me change my mind."
The production of this article was supported by Rights Now for
Democracy and Internews Network