Former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa insists that a proper investigation should be carried out into the murder of Founding Editor of The Sunday Leader Newspaper Lasantha Wickrematunge, but has hinted the government will never hold a transparent investigation, as a minister in the present government is connected to the incident.
Rajapaksa made these remarks following Minister Sarath Fonseka’s maiden speech in parliament where he said that an international probe should be conducted as stipulated in the Geneva resolution into the Editor’s murder and that an investigation must be carried out on the white flag issue as well.
Although Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Minister Sarath Fonseka have accused each other of involvement in Wickrematunge’s murder over the years, the CID is yet to question them over the incident.
In October last year, the CID sought public assistance to obtain vital information about Wickrematunge’s killers and from eyewitnesses if any. According to the CID, they had received considerable information which they said would be helpful for a breakthrough. As the CID sought more information, in February this year, Police Headquarters released a draft sketch of two of the murder suspects. The sketches were drawn based on the statements given by witnesses. The suspects are believed to be around 35 years to 40 years old. The suspect in the first sketch according to the police communique is fair in complexion and around 5 feet 8 inches in height, whilst the suspect in sketch number two is heavy, dark in complexion and around 5 feet 10 inches in height. Although the CID claimed they had received useful information, questions have been raised as to why they are yet to make a breakthrough in the murder case. Minister Sarath Fonseka in his maiden speech in parliament two weeks ago said he was certain the police and CID had the ability to conduct a proper and impartial investigation and bring those responsible for the crime to book. Following Fonseka’s speech in parliament, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa challenged the government to investigate the murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge claiming that the truth would be revealed if the investigation is properly carried out.
Meanwhile it is learnt that the CID is now considering obtaining details of telephone calls the Joint Operations Command (JOC) Headquarters received a few hours before Wickrematunge’s assassination. According to information received, the JOC had given all these call details to the police investigation teams soon after Wickrematunge’s murder but they were not made use of.
Wickrematunge was brutally assassinated in broad daylight in the Attidiya high security zone in close proximity to the Ratmalana Air Force base by a killer squad of eight riding four motorcycles. He was on his way to work on that fateful January 8, 2009. Several journalists were murdered, assaulted and some disappeared during the previous regime but not a single investigation was conducted although promises were made that those responsible for these crimes would be brought before the law.
Since the defeat of the Rajapaksa regime, the CID initiated an investigation into the disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda and military intelligence officers allegedly involved were arrested. The year 2009 started off with state oppression of the media at its worst. Two days before Wickrematunge was assassinated, an arson attack was carried out on MTV/MBC network in Depanama, Pannipitiya. Following these two incidents, Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon and his wife were assaulted causing injury. In 2007 Deputy Editor and Defence Columnist of The Nation newspaper Keith Noyahr was abducted and assaulted allegedly for reporting on the conduct of the war. Many other journalists also came under physical attack during the Rajapaksa regime.
Wickrematunge, a vocal critic of the then government, was subjected to harassment and intimidation on several occasions. The newspaper was sealed during the time of President Chandrika Kumaratunga followed by attacks on the press.
It was no secret that The SundayLeader under Wickrematunge was the biggest thorn in the flesh for the Rajapaksa regime plagued with nepotism, corruption and fraud.
Although investigations are now going on, the CID is yet to question the then Defence Spokesman MP, Keheliya Rambukwella who three weeks after theSunday Leader Editor’s death, said at a media briefing that he and President Mahinda Rajapaksa were aware of the identity of the murderers and that Rajapaksa would make the facts known on February 15, 2009. Neither Rajapaksa nor Rambukwella revealed the names of the killers as promised.
After the fall of the Rajapaksa regime on January 9, 2015, former Minister Mervyn Silva lodged a complaint against Kurunegala District MP Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who he alleged were responsible for the killing of Wickrematunge. When contacted, Silva said he is yet to be summoned to the CID to obtain more information on the suspected murder. “I have the highest respect for the CID and they will do a proper investigation into Wickrematunge’s killing based on my complaint. When Lasantha was physically attacked some time ago, it was Dr. Rajitha Senaratne and I that first visited him at his house.
I was there when Gotabhaya Rajapaksa told a few others that Lasantha was a headache and that they could not govern the country with him as he got all the inside stories and exposed them bringing disrepute to his brother’s government. Not only this, Gotabhaya was also behind the ‘white vans’ which abducted and harassed many journalists who they regarded as a headache to them,” Silva said.
After Wickrematunge’s murder investigation was initiated last year, Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) of the CID, B. S. Tissera received a threatening call on Wednesday October 21, 2015 around 7.42am while on his way to the Attorney General’s Department. Meanwhile, in October last year Mt. Lavinia Magistrate ordered the Judicial Medical Officer (JMO) of the Colombo South Teaching Hospital, Kalubowila Dr. Sarath Kumara to produce Wickrematunge’s post mortem report to the courts since the JMO had failed to produce the JMO report to courts since Wickrematunge’s death in January 2009.
“If there wasn’t any interference, the JMO could have submitted his report to courts after the cause of death was substantiated. What prevented the JMO from producing the report to courts for more than six years? It was the same with rugby player Wasim Thajudeen’s murder as well.
It was only after the fall of the Rajapaksa regime that the Thajudeen case was re-opened. Although Thajudeen died in May 2012, the then JMO Prof. Ananada Samarasekera did not submit his report to courts until the Colombo Additional Magistrate Nishantha Peiris instructed Prof. Samarasekera to submit his report last year. If there is a political backing, the JMOs come under pressure and do not submit the reports for investigations. That was why the Colombo South Hospital also failed to produce Wickrematunge’s report until the Mt. Lavinia Magistrate instructed the JMO to submit the report,” CID sources said. In connection with Wickrematunge’s assassination, two suspects were taken into custody in 2010. Of the two, Pitchai Jesudasan died while in custody, and the second suspect Kandegedara Priyawansa was released due to ‘insufficient evidence.’
Priyawansa, a former military intelligence personnel, was released on bail in 2010 after he claimed in open court that he needed to make a dock statement on the Wickrematunge assassination. He was then taken to the Magistrate’s chamber where he had made a statement. He was released on bail soon after. Although lawyers appearing for Wickrematunge’s interests made several attempts to get a copy of Priyawansa’s statement it was denied. The CID had said the statement had to be sent to the IGP for further investigation.
The case was then handed over to the Terrorism Investigations Department (TID). Repeated requests by the lawyers for a copy of Priyawansa’s statement were denied by the TID claiming it would hamper the progress of the investigation.
The Sunday Leader reliably learns that Priyawansa is back in the Army Intelligence Unit and all attempts made by the CID to question Priyawansa to obtain more details have been prevented by the Army.
“Just as the Army is preventing certain information from being released in the Eknaligoda murder case, they may not want to expose Priyawansa as well who was also a military intelligence unit member. It has now been alleged that military intelligence unit members were involved in the Eknaligoda disappearance,” sources alleged.