Lasantha Wickrematunge: Murdered editor's body exhumed in Sri Lanka

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The press were allowed to photograph the grave after the body was removed
Image caption,
The press were allowed to photograph the grave after the body had been removed

Sri Lankan police have exhumed the body of a prominent newspaper editor as part of a new investigation into his murder.

Lasantha Wickrematunge edited the Sunday Leader, which was critical of then President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

He said before his 2009 murder that the government would kill him. The Rajapaksa government denied the claim.

A new post-mortem will be held to establish cause of death. In July, a military intelligence official was arrested in connection with the murder.

Lasantha Wickrematunge's killing came at a time of intense restrictions on the media in Sri Lanka.

The Sunday Leader had accused the government and the military of rights abuses during their fight against the Tamil Tiger separatist movement.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The cemetery has been under police guard since the exhumation was ordered

In January 2009 the editor had written an editorial saying he believed he would be killed by the government and that an inquiry would come to nothing.

He was killed by unidentified attackers in Colombo three days later.

According to police reports at the time, unidentified gunmen on motorcycles shot him dead on his way to work in Colombo. But two post mortems were inconclusive - one found the editor had died from gunshot injuries, while another said there was no evidence of bullet wounds.

After his surprise win in elections in 2014, the new President, Maithripala Sirisena, vowed to reform Sri Lanka's treatment of the media and to reopen the investigation into Wickrematunge's murder.

The military intelligence officer held in July was the first person to be arrested in the case.

Earlier this month, a judge gave permission for the editor's body to be exhumed, because of the conflicting post-mortem reports. His grave has been under guard since then.

Journalist Mandana Ismail Abeywickrama, who was a close friend of the editor, was nominated by his family to witness the exhumation.

"I had to identify the body - it was one of the most difficult things I have done in my life," she told BBC Sinhala's Azzam Ameen.

"To see his remains like this made me angry that we had to wait so long for justice for him. I don't know why still they have not questioned people who were in charge of the defence establishment at that time."

Extract from Lasantha Wickrematunge's editorial

Image source, AFP

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...

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too.