South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Abdul H. Azeez

Journalism has long been a socially incompatible profession in Sri Lanka. The dangers associated with the job are disproportionate to the pay and levels of appreciation for your work are diverse and subjective.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says that since 1999, 24 journalists have been murdered in Sri Lanka. Reporters Beyond Borders puts the number at 25 since the year 2000. The Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka puts the figure of murdered journalists and media service personnel at a whopping 38 since the year 2005.

Most of them have never found justice.

Impunity in the killing of journalists is not uncommon, neither is it something new to the country. Over many years successive political regimes have failed repeatedly to protect and provide the security necessary for the sufficient functioning of the Fourth Estate.

October 19 was the 10th anniversary of the murder of Tamil journalist Mylvaganam Nimalarajan. He was shot dead at his home on October 19, 2000; his killers injured three members of his family, including his parents.

Nimalarajan, working for the international media, was presumed to have been killed for his coverage of the election violence before and during the 2000 Parliamentary Elections. Reporters Beyond Borders also stated that several suspects who had been arrested in connection with the killing were released in 2002 after a change of government. The authorities have not seen it fit to actively look into his murder since.

In the morning of January 8, 2009, Founder Editor of The Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunge was gunned down as he drove to work by assassins on motorcycles. While onlookers rushed him to hospital, his mobile phone mysteriously disappeared. It was later found in the possession of a three-wheel driver who claimed to have bought it from a man who had stolen it from the hospital.

Police later arrested six of the gunmen on alleged STF bikes, but they were later released citing insufficient evidence. Lasantha’s killers are still at large.

Taraki Sivaram was a popular Tamil journalist. He was kidnapped by four men in a white van on April 28, 2005, in front of the Bambalapitiya police station. His body was found the next day near the Parliament. He had been beaten and shot in the head.

None of the killers of these journalists have ever been found. With Sri Lanka supposedly reaching a new age of democracy and justice, is it not appropriate to ask the question as to why these killers still roam free? Is our law enforcement so incompetent that it fails repeatedly to apprehend such brutal murderers? Or is it that political will currently does not back such attempts at enforcing justice? Perhaps the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Committee should take a look.

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