Focus/Spotlight

Justice delayed, justice denied

By Maheesha Mudugamuwa

It’s been 10 years since the murder of The Sunday Leader founding Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and four years since the initiation of good governance through President Maithripala Sirisena’s induction into office in January, 2015.

The current Government’s term is nearing its end soon and civil society activists, many who worked to bring the “Yahapalana” Government into power in 2015, have no faith in investigations underway on major killings that occurred during the previous regime.

Now, nearing the end of its term, the Government may not have enough time to bring the culprits to justice.

The Government, which came into power in 2015 by defeating the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime made one special promise to the whole nation – to deliver justice to the loved ones of those murdered or disappeared.

Now, as at January, 2019, it’s been four years since the Yahapalana Government came into power, but no progress has been made as none of the investigations saw conclusions or punished the wrongdoers.

Civil society activists claimed they lacked faith in the Government and had no hope that the investigations would reach their end.

As such, civil society activists firmly decided to restrict politicians’ use of the names of the victims to their advantage for political gain, and decided to put an end to accepting continuous false promises on face value, prior to elections only to have them broken, with no action taken for years.

Purawesi Balaya Co-convener Gamini Viyangoda told The Sunday Morning that since the Yahapalana Government came into power, the President and the Prime Minister were both busy protecting criminals and that there were a number of cases piling up at the Attorney General’s Department.

“We have no faith in this Government now and it will be a miracle if they solve these cases within the year,” he said, adding that political interferences in these investigations made it difficult for the responsible authorities to conclude investigations.

“Now, none of the politicians in Sri Lanka have any moral right to ‘sell the names of these victims’ to come into power again, and we, the civil society, will stop that in the future,” Viyangoda stressed.

The list
Speaking to The Sunday Morning, Lasantha Wickrematunge’s ex-wife Raine Wickrematunge said that there was a list of unresolved cases including many murders, disappearances, abductions, and assaults that allegedly occurred from 2005-2015.

In addition to Lasantha Wickrematunge, another Sri Lankan journalist was reported missing in 2010. In 2011, a young worker at a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) Roshen Chanaka was shot dead during a protest, and in 2012, a Sri Lankan rugby player was found dead in a car crash.

Again in 2012, 27 inmates were killed in a riot that broke out in the Welikada Prison during a search for illegal arms.

In 2013, three people were killed while crowds were dispersed in Rathupaswela during a protest held to demand water.

Lack of coordination
One major allegation made by the Police was that the Sri Lanka Army and Sri Lanka Navy were not supporting the investigations and that as a result, they couldn’t go ahead with them.

The Sunday Morning contacted the Sri Lanka Army and Navy to verify this claim.

Sri Lanka Army Media Spokesman Brigadier Sumith Atapattu stressed that the Army fully cooperated for the investigations while Sri Lanka Navy Media Spokesman Lieutenant Commander Isuru Suriyabandara stressed that the Sri Lanka Navy strongly repudiates the allegation and that it extended its fullest support for whatever investigations conducted by the Police.

Meanwhile, responding to a query by The Sunday Morning, State Minister of Defence Ruwan Wijewardene stressed that the issue between the Navy, Army, and Police was a result of the lack of coordination between these institutions and that the military were bulldozed due to some of these investigations.

“They were sent letters by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) requesting to send certain individuals they suspected for inquiries pertaining to certain cases. I believe the military took that as a threat, which made them very uncomfortable.

“However, if there was proper coordination, things should have been easier. But I think that it can still be done without a problem,” Minister Wijewardene noted.

“It is unfortunate that these investigations are dragging, as we have prioritised them. In the first few years, the investigations were progressing quite well and I believe they wanted to thoroughly investigate and avoid any mistakes,” he added.

Speaking about the delay in the investigations, UPFA MP Namal Rajapaksa stressed: “All these allegations are politically biased. If there’s a prima facie incident – for example, like Lasantha Wickrematunge’s – the investigation will never go in the right direction. If they conducted investigations independently without presumptions, certain individuals would have been taken into custody or punished by now.

“However, what has happened is they have politicised it so much that it has become a part of their political campaign and all these are now politically motivated investigations rather than general investigations.

“If someone is to blame, it’s the UNP and no one else. Deputy Minister Thewarapperuma’s statement gave a different angle to these investigations,” Rajapaksa noted.

A few cases at a glance

Wasim Thajudeen
Six years have passed since Thajudeen’s death. Thajudeen was a Sri Lankan rugby player who played for Havelocks Sports Club and the national team.

According to the Police, the case is still under investigation.

Thajudeen was killed on 17 May, 2012 in a car crash, which was initially pronounced an accident, but is being investigated as a murder at present.

According to the Police, Thajudeen was driving to the airport when, at around 1 a.m., he lost control of his car and crashed into the wall of the Shalika Grounds down Park Road, Narahenpita, resulting in the car exploding.

It was alleged that before his death, he was in conflict with a “young politician” of the Rajapaksa administration over the acquisition of Havelocks Sports Club.

His death was surrounded by mystery with many rumours and speculation.

There were allegations that Thajudeen was killed following a dispute with a powerful member of the Rajapaksa Government.

Former Officer-In-Charge of the Narahenpita Police Sumith Perera, former Western Province Senior DIG Anura Senanayake, and former Colombo Judicial Medical Officer Prof. Ananda Samarasekara were arrested in connection with the cover up after the murder.

However, no one was arrested in connection to the actual murder of the rugby player.

The next trial date for the case is set for 29 November.

Prageeth Eknaligoda
Eight years have passed since Prageeth Eknaligoda – a journalist and cartoonist – went missing in Colombo on 24 January, 2010.

His wife Sandya Eknaligoda told The Sunday Morning that even though it’s was almost eight years since he disappeared, no progress was made in the investigation into his disappearance.

She alleged that the Army was not providing the necessary support for the case, citing that as the reason for the delay in finding the culprits.

Sandya took her protest to the United Nations in spite of threats and insults by various people; she was determined to continue her fight.

From time to time, local and international human rights activists reminded the Sri Lankan Government that it had a duty to find Prageeth and provide his family with answers as soon as possible, as they spent too much time living in fear and uncertainty.

Sandya stressed that she didn’t want her husband’s disappearance to remain an election promise that was never fulfilled. “From time to time, politicians talk about my husband and promise to give us justice, but none of them are really interested in doing that,” she stressed.

“We don’t want it to be discussed only during an election. We want justice,” she stressed.

Welikada Prison riot
A riot on 9 November, 2012 at the Welikada Prison in Sri Lanka broke out during a search for illegal arms. It left 27 people dead and 40 injured.

The Government then appointed a committee to investigate the incident.

However, Police Media Spokesman SP Ruwan Gunasekara said that the majority of these cases were still under investigation, except for the Free Trade Zone and Rathupaswela incidents which were currently being heard in court.

According to him, the reason for the delay was attributed to difficulties in gathering evidence, as the incident occurred over six years ago.