Lawsuit over Sri Lankan Editor’s Death Dismissed in Los Angeles

A US district court in California has dismissed a civil lawsuit against former Sri Lankan Secretary of Defense Gotabaya Rajapaksa (above), the brother of onetime Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, over Gotabaya’s alleged involvement in the 2009 killing of Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga, who wrote a painfully eloquent editorial predicting his own death.

The Court said in an October 17 filing that it lacked jurisdiction for the suit because the allegations pertained to Rajapaksa’s actions as a state official.

Asia Sentinel carried Wickramatunga’s final editorial, which ran in the Sunday Leader of Sri Lanka, and which can be found here. According to reports, eight men on motorcycles forced the editor’s car to the side of a street outside Colombo and beat him with iron bars and wooden poles. He died in a local hospital a few hours later. He was a prominent senior journalist known for his critical reporting on the government.

“No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism,” Wikramaunga wrote. “In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honor to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.”

He had stood up for 15 years and told truth to power until it killed him, yet another individual who makes a mockery of the false claims by US President Donald Trump and a growing number of despots and satraps across the world that dedicated men and women dare tragedy daily to produce ‘false news.” Those claims of ‘false news’ are prevalent in the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Cambodia today as well as Donald Trump’s Washington, DC.

The US-based Center for Justice and Accountability, which represented Wikramatunga’s daughter Ahimsa in the case, said in a statement that it would appeal the court’s decision. The New York-based Center for the Protection of Journalists issued a statement by Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher saying the press watchdog organization was “dismayed by the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit against Gotabaya Rajapaksa. Once again there has been failure to deliver justice for Lasantha Wickramatunga and journalists who have been attacked and killed in Sri Lanka.”

Although authorities in Sri Lanka claimed for years to be investigating the case, criminal proceedings have never progressed despite the fact that the Rajapaksa brothers were booted from power several years ago. The Rajapaksas were leaders in the late phases of the 26-year Sri Lankan civil war and were widely accused of perpetrating war crimes. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s regime in Sri Lanka was also characterized as indelibly corrupt.

Gotabaya Rajapaksa was a US citizen when the lawsuit was filed against him in April, as CPJ reported at the time, raising questions how he managed to obtain US citizenship given the Rajapaksa administration’s reputation for both brutality and corruption. He renounced his citizenship in August so he could make a bid for the Sri Lankan presidency, according to news reports.

In a campaign press conference earlier this month, he said that soldiers accused of attacks against journalists during the country’s civil war had been framed.