For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
By Mandana Ismail Abeywickrema
To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history,” US President Barrack Obama during his inauguration speech in 2009.
Over two and a half years later, the murder investigation on The Sunday Leader Founding Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge has not made any progress. Despite many claims made by no lesser person than President Mahinda Rajapaksa that he would announce “very important details” about the murder in February 2009, the investigation seems to be at a standstill.
Rajapaksa in usual form called on the IGP to expedite the investigation and to bring the culprits to book. However, whenever journalists pose questions about Wickrematunge’s murder investigation to the President, the only response now is that the police are still inquiring into the matter.
The prolonged investigation has been handed to the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) from the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) giving the impression that the inquiry is being carried out in full swing. The police are yet to make any leads in the case except for a garage owner named Jesudason from Nuwara Eliya who remains in custody since the mobile phone SIM cards used by the alleged assassins were purchased under his name. A person known to Jesudason and a former army intelligence officer Kandegedera Piyawansa, who was also arrested by the police, was released a few months back due to the lack of evidence against him.
When contacted by The Sunday Leader, Police Spokesperson SSP Maxi Proctor said he was unable to comment on the investigation as it is being carried out by the TID. TID OIC Prasanna de Alwis when contacted said he was handling the investigation, but refused to speak about it.
De Alwis also refused to comment on whether the police have made any breakthrough in the investigation.
However, when the case was taken up for hearing at the Mount Lavinia Magistrate Court on September 28th, the TID informed court that investigations were still being carried out to apprehend the main suspect in the murder.
Be that as it may, there were several interesting twists to the murder investigation.
In February last year, when the TID arrested 12 army soldiers attached to the Army Military Intelligence Unit and also identified as having worked closely with former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, investigators looked into the possible involvement of Fonseka in Wickrematunge’s murder.
The TID investigators then took into custody five mobile telephones that had operated on the same route as Wickrematunge on the day he was murdered. Of the 17 soldiers who were arrested, the detectives narrowed the number down to seven prime suspects. After detaining them for a brief period, the army personnel were released. It was speculated at the time that the soldiers had been released following comments made by them incriminating some senior members of the government.
Another Fonseka aide, Brigadier Duminda Keppetiwala was also detained and statements by him were recorded about Wickrematunge’s murder. However, he too was released after a brief detention.
Meanwhile, the former army intelligence officer Piyawansa who has now been released on bail, made a statement in open court during a previous hearing of the case on May 12, stating that one OIC Prasanna de Alwis of the TID had tried to influence him into making a statement implicating a senior military officer in Wickrematunge’s assassination, with the promise of being made a state witness and given overseas employment. However, TID Sub Inspector A. E. Adhikari rejected the statement made by Piyawansa and informed court on Thursday that the investigating officer concerned would appear in court on the next hearing date on June 9.
The Magistrate had later recorded a statement from Piyawansa in chambers, a process which lasted over three hours. Piyawansa’s lawyer, Upul Anuradha Wickremaratne said that the courts had provision to take appropriate action if there is an inducement or threat made by an investigating officer to a suspect in violation of the Criminal Procedure Code. In such an event, the Magistrate can record a statement from the suspect and hold an inquiry.
Amidst these interesting twists, Wickrematunge’s case remains unsolved and investigators are still unable to even identify the murder weapon. Wickrematunge was killed on January 8, 2009, 8 hours after the arson attack on the MTV/MBC station in Depanama.