Let MR spill the beans

Daily News Editorial

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa has dropped a bombshell. He says he knows who killed Sunday Leader founder Editor Lasantha Wickremetunga. Not only that, he has invited the CID to question him if it wants to know who killed Lasantha. Rajapaksa’s revelation is serious indeed if not shocking. Lasantha was assassinated in January 2009, in a high security zone swarming with military personnel and in a previous editorial we made the point that no such incident could have occurred at such a guarded location unless with the full knowledge of the high ups in the defence establishment.

Rajapaksa was the commander-in-chief and his brother Gotabhaya the Defence Secretary. They certainly would, at least, have had an inkling of what indeed happened on that fateful day. Rajapaksa, one may recall, told the elder brother of the slain journalist at a media gathering at Temple Trees, shortly after the assassination, that if he (the brother) was able to provide any information on the identity of the assassin, he (Rajapaksa) would do the needful. This, after Lasantha’s elder brother directly inquired from Rajapaksa on the progress of the investigation. In other words, the former President, as implied, was not aware of anyone connected to the assassination. Hence, his request for information in this regard.

Graphics added by TW from InternetImage result for lasantha murder cartoons

Now, a full eight years after the incident, Rajapaksa is confessing that he knew who was behind the assassination, and, not only that, is asking the CID to obtain all the details from him. In other words, the former President had been sitting tight on all the information pertaining to those behind the assassination for eight long years and is only now prepared to spill the beans.

Why didn’t he go to the CID at the time and expose the identity of those behind the killing? After all Lasantha was said to have been a good friend of his. Hasn’t the former President, by his silence on the matter, set himself up as an accessory to murder?

The CID now has the opportunity to question the former President following the latter’s invitation to be questioned. As the former head of state, the evidence of Rajapaksa has necessarily got to carry a lot of weight. It also has to be noted that Rajapaksa maintained a stoic silence all these years even when suspects connected to the assassination were being questioned. He did not drop the bombshell, as he has done today, at the time. Had he done so the investigation would have been long concluded and the culprits brought to book.

It must be said that the whole affair came to the fore with the grilling of former Army Commander Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka. Is Rajapaksa’s display of alacrity to name the assassin at this stage anything to do with revenge, jealousy or personal animosity? If not, why bring the matter up at this stage? Whoever was responsible, it was the bounden duty of Rajapaksa to come out with identity of the individuals responsible for the foul deed at the time. What made Rajapaksa come out of the woodwork now with his precious information, knowing his credibility is bound to be put to the test?

Be that as it may, with Rajapaksa now coming out with this explosive revelation, the law enforcement authorities should not lose time in getting to the bottom of the whole affair. The slain journalist’s wife, soon after the new government took office, wrote a letter to those who mattered to reopen the investigation that had been stalled. The journalist fraternity too is clamouring to speed up investigations, not only into the Lasantha assassination, but all members of the fourth estate who went the same way as Lasantha.

The Yahapalanaya government promised an end to the culture of impunity, that was the hallmark of the Rajapaksa regime. The dark pall that hung over the journalist tribe has been lifted over the last two years, although some media institutions have taken the liberty of criticising the government with impunity. They don’t have to fear white vans anymore.

Lasantha, no doubt, was a controversial scribe and in certain instances crossed that red line that got under the skins of both the Chandrika and Mahinda regimes. But by no stretch of the imagination can one justify the fate that ultimately visited the Sunday Leader editor and there can be no justification for what in the end befell Lasantha, whatever flaws he may have had, professionally speaking.

This foul murder even brought Sri Lanka under the international microscope and served to alienate the countries of the civilized world from Sri Lanka. It is time that the Lasantha murder stop being made a political football by interested parties and that the whole matter be gone into in depth before the real culprits, both who committed the actual crime and those who masterminded it, brought to justice. This, while dousing the anguish of the Wickremetunga family, would no doubt be justice done to all journalists who went the same route as Lasantha and a victory for those scribes who were subjected to state sponsored violence.