Working journalists demand Prez Commission to probe killing of journalists and disappearances



by Shamindra Ferdinando 

In the wake of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) recording Regional Development Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka’s statement in connection with ongoing investigations into the assassination of The Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga on the morning of January 8, 2009, Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) will launch a fresh campaign to pressure the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to appoint a Presidential Commission to probe attacks on the media.

The police recorded war winning Army Chief’s statement last Friday at the CID.

Wickrematunga was killed at Attidiya, Ratmalana while on his way to office.

President of the SLWJA and Deputy Editor of Ravaya Lasantha Ruhunage yesterday told The Island that the yahapalana government had ignored repeated calls to appoint a Presidential Commission, though in the run-up to the January 2015 presidential polls assurances were given to them in that regard. Ruhunage emphasized the need to investigate all incidents, not only those high profile assassinations to ensure justice to victims as well as their families.


Field Marshal Fonseka on Saturday said that the CID recorded his statement regarding duties undertaken by the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI) in Colombo during the war. The UNP National List MP was responding to media query at a function at Wattala, Hunupitiya. Minister Fonseka said that as the Commander of the Army, he had no authority to inquire into crimes though he was responsible for actions of officers and men in the line of their duties.


Field Marshal Fonseka is on record as having said that the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa were responsible, whereas Joseph Michael Perera alleged in parliament that a special unit under Fonseka targeted the media.


The CID late last year questioned wartime Chief of National Intelligence (CNI) retired Maj. General Kapila Hendawitharana regarding a suspect in Wickrematunga assassination, Sergeant Major Premananda Udalagama being assigned to Sri Lankan diplomatic mission in Germany during the previous administration. The CID has also sought clarification from Hendawitharana in respect of Maj. Gen. Amal Karunasekera, wartime head of the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI). Maj. Gen. Karunasekera had been recalled from an overseas assignment in the wake of investigations into Wickremetunga assassination.


Ruhunage said that they had requested President Maithripala Sirisena in writing to appoint a Presidential Commission and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Media Minister Gayantha Karunatilleke, too, were briefed of their request.


Recollecting SLWJA led campaign to collect public signatures for a petition opposite the Fort Railway station on January 26, last year, Ruhunage said that having vigorously campaigned on a platform of transparency and accountability in the run up to presidential and parliamentary polls in 2015, the government couldn’t ignore the need for a presidential commission.


Media Minister Karunatilleke yesterday told The Island that proper action had been taken to probe Wickrematunga’s assassination and the disappearance of media personality Prageeth Ekneligoda on the eve of January 26, 2010 presidential poll. The appointment of a Presidential Commission would be the prerogative of President Sirisena, Minister Karunatilleke said, adding that the government would inquire into attacks on the media.


The yahapalana government ordered an investigation into Wickremetunge’s assassination and Sergeant Maj. Udalagama was taken into custody in July last year. Wickremetunga’s body was exhumed in Sept last year and in the following month retired Sergeant Major Edirisinghe Jayamanne, also of the DMI, committed suicide after having written a letter claiming responsibility for Wickrematunga’s killing. The 52-year-old man requested that Sergeant Major Udalagama, now on bail be cleared of Wickrematunga assassination.


Ruhunage said that President Sirisena had assured compensation to those journalists who were affected due to violence unleashed by successive governments. Acknowledging the need to pay compensation, Ruhunage said the priority should be given to a thorough investigation into attacks on the media.


Asked whether the SLWJA had wanted the proposed Presidential Commission to focus on incidents that had taken place during a specific period, Ruhunage said that all incidents before and after the January 2015 revolution should be probed. Ruhunage admitted the need to identify journalists and media workers killed, wounded and disappeared.


Ruhunage said that SLWJA would continue to press President Sirisena over the long overdue appointment of a Presidential Commission.


In accordance with overall strategy to highlight the issue, the SLWJA has invited journalists, representatives of political parties, civil society activists and trade union activists to sign post cards at the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) at 11 am tomorrow (Jan 24) to be sent to President Sirisena.

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