Saturday, 30 May 2009

Then they came for me

As a journalist, I am always awed by the number of colleagues who are prepared to die for what they believe is their duty: to uncover and report what needs to be told. Lasantha Wikramatunga, the editor of Sri Lanka’s Sunday Leader, continued to write about state terrorism and the need to address to root causes of separatist terrorism, knowing very well he would be killed. He was gunned down on 8 January. His last editorial, published three days after this death, declared that that the duty of his paper was to be “there for everyone- be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled.”

Here is a short extract of his 2,500-word editorial. (Parts of it were reprinted in Amnesty Magazine, May/June 2009.)

“We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. 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.

Why then do we do it? After all, I too am a husband, and a father of three wonderful children. Is it worth the risks? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognizing the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right to residence in their countries…

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is called conscience…

When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me… It is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantages or the persecuted.

His last words haunt me; his words so powerful that the government felt he needed to be silenced…

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