Last week former colleagues and family commemorated the death anniversary of slain editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga. He was killed in broad daylight in Colombo in 2009. Former Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon was brutally assaulted by bikers who surrounded his car in January 2009, just two weeks after Wickrematunge was murdered. The same week marked the killing of five young men, fresh out of school, in Trincomalee in 2006. Prageeth Eknaligoda, a political satirist attached to a critical news website disappeared in January 2010 and was never heard of again.
In all these cases the security forces and other State elements are accused of involvement and the other commonality is that to date no one has been held responsible for these crimes. They are emblematic of the failure of the Sri Lankan criminal justice system, the impunity enjoyed throughout the political spectrum and the inability of the judiciary to deliver justice to victims of violence orchestrated by the State.
The irony and tragedy of these cases is that everyone knows exactly who was involved and who gave the orders for these heinous acts of violence. These crimes took place when Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the head of the security establishment, as the powerful Secretary to the Ministry of Defence in his brother Mahinda Rajapaksa’s administration. In cases such as the killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge and the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda a clear link through the chain of command has been established. Evidence has been presented to courts that military intelligence units were responsible for these crimes and reasonable evidence to prove a political motive. Despite this revelation there has hardly been any progress in the judiciary. These investigations afford a case study of the corruption of State-sponsored immunity.
Sandya Eknaligoda’s tireless crusade to find her missing husband found resonance within the Criminal Investigation Department then led by SSP Shani Abeysekera, and a dedicated team of prosecutors at the Attorney General’s Department which filed indictments against several top-ranking military officials implicated in Prageeth’s abduction. Ahimsa Wickrematunge’s relentless pursuit of justice against her father’s killers has taken his case before the US courts, the UN Human Rights Commission and a People’s Tribunal in The Hague. Dr. Kasipillai Manoharan has been searching for justice for his slain son Ragihar in the “Trinco Five” case for years. Despite these cases gaining international attention and some traction within the Sri Lankan courts they have not been delivered justice. In 2019 the Trincomalee Magistrate’s Court released 13 accused in the ‘Trinco Five’ case for lack of evidence. The proceedings in the Lasantha murder and Prageeth disappearance case have been intentionally stalled and all the military personnel accused of the crimes have been released.
It is evidently clear that while politicians and parties use these emblematic cases for their political gain all shades of the political spectrum are in cahoots to cover up and protect the perpetrators. It was evident during the Yahapalana regime when some progress was made into these investigations that those in power made numerous political deals with those who were implicated for the crimes. The minister in charge of law and order was in cahoots with the personal lawyer of one of the accused to derail the CID investigations. They are now on the same team, holding high post within the Wickremesinghe administration. The bipartisan collaboration to stall investigations, protect perpetrators and cover up crimes is visible as day just as it is obvious who ordered the above crimes.