19th February 2008, Colombo, Sri Lanka: The Free Media Movement (FMM) is very surprised to learn that the head of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID) of the Sri Lankan Police claims that journalist Sampath Lakmal, who was murdered in 2006, was a paid military informant. DIG H. W. Prathapasinghe made this statement to an English newspaper on 17th February 2008. The FMM finds it utterly incredible that it has taken 18 months for the CID to make this revelation, even by its own standards.
In its alert on the day of his murder the FMM said:
FMM do not condone any involvement of journalists in active party politics or military type of activities. FMM condemns this murder on the grounds of right to life and journalist’s rights to gather and disseminate information.
Journalist Sampath Lakmal was lured out from his house where he lived with his mother on 2nd July 2006 and shot dead in early morning hours. He worked as a freelance journalist for the Sinhala weekly Sathdina at the time of his death. Before that he worked as a full time journalist for a number of media institutions. Mrs. Rupa de Silva, his mother and a retired schoolteacher provided the Police with name of the military officer who requested Sampath Lakmal to join him that fatal night. Although the court has taken up the case 8 times so far, the Police have failed to produce any suspects or even to record a statement from the military officer.
This statement by CID head poses very important questions that have to be answered by police/state military agencies:
Is it a common practice for state security agencies to employ journalists as paid agents? Is it right for military to engage journalists as their paid agents in a democratic society? Are there any more military agents posing as journalists? If Sampath Lakmal was a military agent cum journalist does it mean that his death should not be investigated? What is the proof that police can produce evidence to prove that he was a paid agent? Is there any relation between his killing and being an agent? Or was he killed because of his writing?
The FMM is deeply concerned that State agencies are accusing journalists as agents of military/LTTE to cover up extra judicial killings, assaults and arrests. When female Tamil journalist Parameshwari was arrested in November 2006, it was linked to arrest of another Tamil female who the security forces labeled as a suicide bomber. Both of them were released without any charges only after they filed fundamental rights cases against the police.
The FMM demands that the CID and Police prove these allegations and open the investigation of Sampath Lakmal’s murder to media. We believe the truth behind his killing is not to be found in sensational revelations, but in the due course of justice that we note with concern is significantly vitiated in Sri Lanka today.