January 8 marked a year of the murder-in-daylight of Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickrematunga. Lasantha was driving to work in his Toyota when he was shot dead. Even in Sri Lanka where journalists are threatened and thrashed with remarkable impunity — no one has ever been caught — the murder triggered shockwaves.
What’s turned out to be more shocking is that Lasantha’s murderers — those who planned and ordered the killing and those who executed it — continue to be free. Shockingly enough, the case is being probed by Criminal Investigation Department officers, expected to be more efficient than your neighbourhood constable with his apathetic paunch.
It is well known in Colombo that Lasantha shared a long –time rapport with President Mahinda Rajapaksa; the rapport quite clearly hasn’t helped in getting the journalist any justice in death.
At a breakfast meeting with foreign correspondents on Tuesday, Rajapaksa indicated that his strongest Presidential contender, Sarath Fonseka, knows who killed Lasantha. “You should ask him,’’ Rajapaksa said when HT asked about the investigation.
Problem is every time Fonseka — army chief at the time — is asked about the murder, he returns the ball to Rajapaksa and his brother, defence secretary, Gotabhaya’s court. There is no love lost between the Rajapaksas’ and Fonseka but in this case, the return of the blame from one political court to the other seems quite convenient for both parties.
A bureaucrat at the breakfast hinted that sinister hit squads in one of the uniformed forces could have been responsible. And that it is difficult to zero in on the killers as these squads are faceless and nameless. Intelligence inputs can’t be trusted either as those picking up clues on the ground could well have been compromised, he said.
That brought me the thought that both political opponents know more than they are revealing about the murder; and also that there seems to be little chance of Lasantha’s killers getting caught any time soon.