Ahimsa Wickrematunge is the daughter of slain Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge. Due to threats against her family in Sri Lanka arising from her father’s publications, Ahimsa and her mother and siblings moved to Australia, where she currently resides. Ahimsa has been pursuing justice for her father’s killing for the past ten years.
Lasantha Wickrematunge was an acclaimed journalist, famous for his political opinion columns and his investigations exposing government corruption, human rights violations, and war crimes in the decades-long civil war. He served as the editor-in-chief of The Sunday Leader, an English-language weekly newspaper, from 1994 until his death in 2009.
In late 2007, Lasantha began to report on a corruption scandal involving the military’s purchase of Ukrainian fighter planes, known as the “MiG Deal” involving then-Secretary of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Gotabaya Rajapaksa subsequently filed a defamation suit against The Sunday Leader and the State Intelligence Service began surveilling Lasantha’s mobile phone. A few months later, on January 8, 2009, Lasantha was murdered on his drive to work by a group of black-clad men on motorcycles, days before he was due to testify in Rajapaksa’s defamation case against him. His funeral drew mourners from around the world, and statements condemning his assassination came from freedom of expression organizations and governments alike.
In recognition of his commitment to a free and independent press, Lasantha was posthumously awarded the UNESCO World Press Freedom Prize, the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity, the James Cameron Memorial Trust Award, and the National Press Club’s International Freedom of the Press Award. He was also declared the 2010 World Press Freedom Hero by the International Press Institute.
In an editorial to be published upon his death, Lasantha wrote:
Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.
It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government’s sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks, and the attackers were never apprehended. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.
I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.