“I have so much to tell you but I can’t. IT is too dangerous”
By Ru. Kariyawasam
Q: You are a well-known journalist who was the chief editor of The Morning Leader. How is your new position as the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka in the UN office of New York?
A: Thank you for your opinion about me. I worked very hard then. I was the main investigative journalist and the advisory editor of The Sunday Leader. Now I am a guest lecturer in politics, communication, human rights and international justice at two reputed universities in New York.
I have a lot of work in New York. I work until late at night. But I am very happy that I can represent my country which is moving out from darkness. The country is moving to a new era through reconciliation and justice. Positive relations are being built up with the international community. We are winning hearts as a nation. Our people suffered a lot due to ethnic and other troubles. We must forget them to achieve a prosperous and peaceful future.
Q: Amid all these work, you are engaged in media work also. Do you have time for that?
A: We pass many times in our life. Each has a certain timeframe. As a journalist, I worked for 25 years. It is my passion. I don’t think I can move away from the media, but now I write poetry and fiction. They were published in New York. It is part of my life.
I think positive in terms of Sri Lanka’s change. Journalists must make use of it to practise their profession.
Still the journalists of other countries have threats. In 2015, 98 journalists and media men were killed. In the US, journalists do not face violence, but commercial pressure. They have to fight to safeguard the freedom of expression. As journalists, we are the eyes and ears of the people.
Q: Your beloved husband Lasantha Wickramathunga was brutally killed on 8 January. How do you remember that tragedy which was a great loss to the media world?
A: It is part of my memory which comes to my mind often. I always see in my mind how his beautiful face was soaked in blood. I have spoken and written about that incident in many places.
Q: Why did you return to Sri Lanka in the time of seventh anniversary of Lasantha?
A: Sri Lanka was relieved from the darkness on 8 January 2015 exactly six years after my husband’s death. It is a great day for Sri Lanka.
We suffered from terrorism for thirty years. After that we suffered from the dictatorship, impunity, lack of freedom of expression, election violence and corruption.
Then our people determined to fight for democracy again. In the New Year, a new sun rose over Sri Lanka.
It brought a great change in my life. I was in exile after the killing of my husband and returned to the country after six years. I have been travelling for media and law related work, but this is the first time I travelled to a country in the Eastern region after six years.
I told everybody I was going back home. But in fact, I have no home to return. There is no home after you had left it. I wanted to capture it from the place I gave it up. But I have changed due to the shocking and tragic events. The country I had left behind has also changed. But my friends are the same. They welcomed me with love, care and kindness as they did in the past.
I am happy to come back to my country. But I am a bit of a stranger. I saw some arrogant development work in Colombo and some major cities. They did not look like well thought out and designed. They had been done in a political urgency. The roads have been widened and carpeted. Cities were clean. Skyscrapers were built without thinking about environment or the jamming.
My father handed over the house no one had lived for six years. I repaired it. Its ownership is a strength to me. I looked for what I had lost. Stepping on Sri Lankan soil brought strong feelings to my mind. I had to use Sinhala again. I avoided meeting friends again, but walking on the road freely was merry.
My mind needed further curing, but I saw encouraging looks in the people’s faces.
I describe my feelings in this story clearly. Once I exchanged views with a professor of Harvard University. After leaving the home country I was following a course in poetry and writing. The professor was reading a poem written by me. She suddenly stopped reading and squeezed my hand.
“I am sorry. Your life is filled with so many sad things,” she said. I thanked her for her kind words. I said I had a wonderful life which was destroyed by the recent tragic events.
My husband’s death, the things I lost, and being in exile did not reflect the beauty of my childhood. The violence in the dark political era did not reflect the nature of my country of the people there.
Sri Lanka is a wonderfully loving country for me. I have paddled through hard times. But our people are great. See how they rise, fight and start again.
Q: Your husband Lasantha was killed a short time after you married him. What are the beautiful memories of your marriage?
A: Actually, our marriage was registered in early November. The wedding took place on 20 December 2008 at my house. We wanted to have it at Christ Church, Galle Face but we had to change the venue due to security reasons. We thought of the safety of ourselves and our kith and kin.
We had to reprint the invitations. The wedding ceremony was held in Cinnamon Grand on 27 December 2008.
We went to Benthota for the honeymoon. My family was also with us on the 31st night. I remember how we rode a boat on the New Year day. We met friends. Lasantha sings beautifully when he bathes in the bathroom. He had a beautiful voice. He liked to sing Elvis Presley and Sinhala classics.
Q: Both of you were journalists as well as lawyers. Did you have a lot of arguments at home? What are Lasantha’s qualities that you like most?
A: Sometimes we argued but soon we forgot the unimportant matters and settled. We matched very well personally.
But I wondered about some of his editorial decisions. I was not happy occasionally. But he had chosen the path as an experienced and wise journalist.
His boldness and friendliness are the qualities I love most. Such courage is rare in a human. Some police officers were found guilty for attacking him, but he forgave them and appeared for them so that their families are not affected.
Q: How do you recall the two weeks before his death?
A: We worked all the time without taking leave. You may see in December and January ‘Sunday Leader’ issues that both my investigative articles and Lasantha’s Suranimala column appeared. For us, personal life came after the newspaper.
Q: Do you remember the day before his death? Did something special happen on that day? Did Lasantha say something special?
A: Yes. I remember very well. I wanted to visit a friend of mine. We wanted to eat fish sausage and papaw juice. We were trying to eat healthily. But he was busy due to an alms-giving. Therefore, we went to the Cricket Club. Lasantha ordered spaghetti bolognaise. I don’t remember if it was in the menu. He briefed me how he would spend the next day.
He told me he had planned to have lunch with a reporter of ‘New York Times.’ He spoke about some calls and SMS too.
He said he was under immense threat. He asked if I was ready to leave the country as soon as possible. I said I was ready on the very night too. He laughed and said he had controlled the situation. But he said something I have to think for always.
He said, “I have so much to tell you but I can’t. They are too dangerous.”
Q: Do you remember the last moment you were with him? I have heard that you pleaded Lasantha not to go to office on that day. Do you think his life could be saved if he did not go to office?
A: Yes, you are right. I pleaded with him to stay or to go in another car so that he could not be traced. His friends also warned him. Two assailants followed us the previous day right up to our house. But Lasantha was not afraid. He was obstinate. I thought he would take it under his control. As we know now, it was a commando type operation and professional killing.They had planned to kill both of us on any other day if they missed that day. I think they were not to stop after killing us.
Q: Did Lasantha tell you anything before his death? Did you or Lasantha see nightmares?
A: No. But we had several threats. A white van had followed us. Politicians had warned him several times. We had a lot of discussions about it.
Q: Do you believe in astrology? Was there anything about bad times and departing?
A: We do not believe in astrology. Politicians can rule better if they give up these superstitions. We saw how a trusted astrologer of Mahinda Rajapaksa had to hide during an election. Lasantha and I were rationalists. We were not guided by feelings when we followed the stories too.
We knew that we were under threat due to our media work. Myths reduced the intensity of fear in the time impunity and terror was overwhelming. The true perpetrators were freed. Those who led the assassins must take the full responsibility. Killing Lasantha was not an act of devils but the humans.
Q: How did you meet and fall in love?
A: I am younger than him. I met him first when he wrote Suranimala column to ‘The Sunday Leader’ 27 years ago. I was an apprentice reporter then. I was at the Law College. Since then we were friends.
Q: Can you see progress in investigations on Lasantha killing under the new government?
A: Yes, I can. The officer who led the initial investigations in 2009 was clever. He promised me to act strictly. But everything changed. The investigators were not allowed to continue with their work. The process was very slow. I believe now there is political will to continue the investigations. There are no interferences. But it is not perfect. They have to restart after seven years. But we have technology now. We have DNA testing and judicial medical science. I spoke to the investigation team several times. I believe that they will complete the investigations which were deliberately blocked by the past regime.