For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information that Pichchei Jesudasan, the primary suspect in the murder of veteran journalist editor of the Sunday Leader News Paper, Lasantha Wickramatunga, died while in remand prison. The other suspect who was arrested in relation to this case confessed to the Magistrate that he is under severe pressure by senior police officers to say that the killing was ordered by members of the military. He refused to follow these orders and sought judicial protection for his life. Jesudasan’s death is a huge blow to those who have awaited justice for the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga , including a number of a local and international human rights groups. The Sri Lankan government has initiated a policy wherein suspects are arrested and then killed so as to deter criminals from committing crimes. This policy has encouraged law enforcement officers to kill innocent people with impunity. The lack of a thorough investigation of this crime is a denial of justice to the victim and his family. The case illustrates the exceptional collapse of the rule of law in the country.
Pichchei Jesudasan (36) of Magastora, Nuwara Eliya District died on 15 October 2011. Jesudasan was the owner of a garage in Nuwara Eliya. He was arrested under the suspicion that he had been involved in the assassination of Sunday Leader newspaper editor Lasantha Wickramatunga in January 2009. Lasantha was killed on 8 January 2009 at Malagala, Atthidiya in Colombo as he traveled to his workplace. .
Several days after Lasantha’s death, Jesudasan was arrested in Nuwara Eliya at his residence and detained at the police station. Shortly thereafter, he was produced before the Magistrate of Mount Lavinia and then remanded at Magazin Prison in Colombo. Even though he had not been charged by the courts, he was detained in prison for almost two years. Jesudasan was suspected to have close ties with the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam) and was thus provided with special security measures while he was at Magazin Prison.
On 13 October, he was to be brought from Magazin Prison to Mount Lavinia Magistrate Court for his suspected involvement in Lasantha’s death. He was found that day in prison lying on the ground having discharged a large amount of sputum (a mixture of mucus and saliva) from his mouth and nose. Prison officials admitted him to ward 44 of the National Hospital in Colombo for treatment. Two days after he was admitted, he was pronounced dead. Jesudasan was a healthy adult who sustained a livelihood as a mechanic before the arrest. He had no previously reported illnesses. The police stated that Jesudasan died of a heart attack.
Before Jesudasan’s death occurred, another suspect was arrested and remanded in relation to the assassination of Lasantha. This suspect, who is said to be connected to the Millitary Intelligence Unit, made a confession before the Magistrate of Mount Lavinia. He stated before the Magistrate of Mount Lavinia that he was forced to confess to the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga by several higher ranking police officers, including the Officer-in-Charge (OIC) of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) who was following the orders of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. He said that he refused to follow these orders, and pleaded for protection because he believed that his life was in danger.
The investigation into Lasantha’s assassination has continued for several years; yet a final investigation report has yet to be submitted to the court. The Magistrate has reprimanded the investigating officers attached to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of Sri Lanka Police regarding this delay on several occasions. The officers attached to the CID have stated that the investigation into the killing of Lasantha has been transferred to the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) of the Sri Lanka Police. The final report on the investigation of the killing of Lasantha Wickramatunga has yet to be submitted to the court.
Several local and international human rights groups, media organizations and influential people including the President of the United States of America have shown their interest in seeking justice regarding the killing of veteran journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga. In light of this national and international pressure, the death of the main suspect of this crime is extremely suspicious. The collapse of the criminal justice system, particularly in relation to cases of serious human rights abuses is emblematic of the lethargic approach of Sri Lankan law enforcement agencies in implementing the country’s laws.
Jasudasan’s sudden death is a serious blow to the investigation of Lasantha’s death. Justice has been denied to both Lasantha and Jesudasan.
Source: Asian Human Rights Commission