Statement to RSF by Lasantha Wickrematunge’s widow and fellow editor Sonali Samarasinghe on his second death anniversary
January 8, 2011
Lasantha Wickrematunge was a journalist who fought fearlessly for the freedom of the press and relentlessly pursued what he believed was right. It is a sad tribute to Sri Lanka’s growing indifference to democratic principles, justice ands fair play and the present regime’s strangle hold on the media and democratic institutions, that even 24 months after his murder there has been no conclusion to Lasantha’s murder investigation. Even as the so-called investigation fell apart, I wrote President Rajapakse a letter on April 24, 2009 and again on January 4, 2010 calling for an independent international inquiry into my husband’s death. I also wrote to then-Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickremaratne requesting his cooperation. Yet no real progress has been made except to make his murder a speaking point of every election campaign in order to throw allegations at political oppnents. President Rajapakse has reduced Lasantha’s investigation to a political circus.
As we commemorate Lasantha’s death anniversary we much not forget those other brave journalists who have also paid the supreme sacrifice in the pursuit of their craft. Several other journalists have been attacked or otherwise threatened, resulting in their being forced to flee Sri Lanka. Yet others have been coerced into submission. At no time in the history of our country has the freedom of expression been so brutally been repressed as it is now. Such media as do operate in the country have been transformed into propaganda mouthpieces for the government, or into flaccid shells of their former integrity, bullied into submission through draconian pieces of legislation or emergency regulations.
The danger for Sri Lanka’s people is that the subversion of democratic mechanisms and violence against democratic institutions continues unabated in a time of peace. And yet now the war has ended the international community will conveniently choose to see only an outer façade of peace. Tiny Sri Lanka, though deeply troubled and under the jackboot of an authoritarian regime will once more recede into the background of the international consciousness as other more pressing issues of more importance to the world emerge.
Meanwhile President Rajapakse’s priorities are now to attract foreign investment and increase trade while defending his army and his political family against allegations of war crimes.
He continues to use his large majority and the enormous powers vested in his administration to perpetuate authoritarianism and the culture of impunity while obliterating any remnants of a free media.
Last September he lifted Presidential term limits and gave himself unlimited power over judicial, police and other public service appointments and removed constitutional safeguards over the electoral process.
Certainly it is not uncommon in societies that have undergone violent insurgencies or civil wars (And Sri Lanka’s people were weary of a war that lasted 27 years) to tolerate and even embrace authoritarian hawkish governments that are perceived as taking a tough and relentless stand in defense of public security. They tend to enjoy widespread support and are able to amass considerable power, even if known to be violating civil liberties and human rights.
I do sincerely believe that given time the war weary people of Sri Lanka will once again see the Rajapakse regime for what it really is – a self serving parasite on Sri Lanka’s escutcheon.
However the danger is that over time even as the people come to this realization there will be no tolerance whatsoever for any kind of political uprising to restore sanity and true democracy as by that time the Rajapakse regime would have completely constitutionalised their authoritarianism and tyranny and militarized the entire system, and it is at these desperate times that bloody revolutions may again take place. This is what we must try to avoid and this is why the government must stretch out a sincere hand of hope to the war ravaged people of the north and restore immediately and with urgent attention the democratic institutions including a truly independent media in the country.
Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge