Today marks the 10th anniversary of Lasantha Wickrematunge’s assassination. It is a day to remember the impressive journalist that Lasantha was, but also provides a sobering moment to understand just how far Sri Lanka is still from achieving justice for the most telling crimes, committed at the highest levels of impunity.
The media fraternity has always faced the brunt of anti-democratic forces in Sri Lanka. They are always at the frontlines and, as Lasantha showed, sometimes pay the highest price for their defence of institutions and public interest. Ten years have gone by and investigations into Lasantha’s death have dragged on, as family, friends and colleagues have watched helplessly. They have had to appeal to politicians to fast-track investigations, even though it is these same politicians who highlight the deaths of Lasantha and journalist Pradeep Eknaligoda when it suits their political aims but are not quite so enthusiastic when it comes to bringing perpetrators to justice.
This heartrending political exchange is perhaps why over the long years achieving justice for Lasantha has become rallying call and a symbol for all oppressed and disenfranchised in Sri Lanka. Echoes of this fight for justice is seen in the cases of disappeared, the battle to protect what is left of Sri Lanka’s democracy, and the ever-present battle for media freedom. Over the years it is not just journalists who knew Lasantha and were trained by him who have joined this journey, but also Sri Lankans from different walks of life who believe that the fight for what is right is a universal battle not limited to personal connections.
In some ways, Lasantha has become a stronger unifying force in the last 10 years than any other individual because his tragic end is not seen as the injustice done to one family but emblematic of Sri Lanka’s long road towards accountability. Despite the many policies, international forums and election promises that have been made, there is a sense that not enough has been achieved realistically to give closure to the bereaved. As an iconic journalist, Lasantha stood for public interest and fought for the voiceless. His quest to speak truth to power ultimately ended his life, but continues to inspire and direct journalists and activists.
Even though Sri Lanka’s present-day environment is a far cry from the one in which Lasantha operated, the improvements still need to deepen to allow media personnel to function as independent professionals. The Government has to become more transparent and voluntarily release information in a way that can be easily published, actively fight against corruption, and establish the legal framework needed for journalists to do their work safely. In an era when social media is dominating the information landscape, it is becoming ever more important not just for journalists to produce more balanced and impartial work but also for it to be disseminated in ways that reach the public and encourage them to be informed.
Lasantha, had he been with his brethren today, would have undoubtedly been at the forefront of these many battles. As it is, now we can only continue to fight for these goals, knowing that he is with us in spirit.