The body of Lasantha Wickrematunge, veteran Sri Lankan journalist and former chief editor of Sunday Leader, who was killed in 2009, was exhumed today. According to a report in Colombo Gazette, the process was stopped for a few minutes when a drone was seen flying over and taking visuals from above.
In July, a military intelligence officer was arrested for Wickrematunge’s killing, reports said. A judge had ordered on September 8 that his body be exhumed, given the anomalies in previous autopsy reports. His grave has been under tight security ever since the announcement was made.
According to a BBC report, Wickrematunge was frequently critical of then president Mahinda Rajapaksa and his government, in particular of the war against the Tamil Tigers.
In January 2009, the journalist wrote an editorial saying that if he were killed, the government would be responsible. Three days later, he was murdered by unidentified attackers. The editorial was published three days after his death.
Before his death, Wickrematunge had been gravely assaulted on two occasions. “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,” he wrote in his final editorial.
The exhumation was conducted by Colombo magistrate Mohamed Mihan in the presence of medico-judicial officers under tight police protection at the Colombo General Cemetery.
The suburban Mount Lavinia court had ordered the exhumation on the request of the Crime Investigation Department (CID). The CID had claimed that all previous forensic reports were contradictory – one reports said Wickrematunge had died of gun shot injuries, while the other cited stab wounds as the cause of death.
“The body was moved to the judicial medical officer’s office after exhumation. It will now be examined by a team of doctors,” Athula S. Ranagala, the lawyer of the late editor’s family told reporters.
Wickrematunga was murdered on a motor way at Attidiya, a Colombo suburb while he was driving to work alone on January 8, 2009.
The current editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper, Easwaran Rutnam, said he was cautiously optimistic justice would finally be served more than seven years after Wickrematunge was killed, Colombo Gazette reported.
The investigation had been at a standstill under Rajapaksa, with human rights groups often accusing the government of blocking the case from moving forward. International media rights group Reporters Without Borders had also spoken up against the delayed investigation. However, current president Maithripala Sirisena promised to find the journalists’s killers after his surprise win in 2015, the Guardian reported.
(With PTI inputs)