The BBC has produced a powerful account of the 2009 assassination of Lasantha Wickrematunge, founder and editor of The Sunday Leader in Sri Lanka, as part of its Witness History podcast. The 11-minute piece is built around an interview with Wickrematunge’s widow, Sonali Samarasinghe, who was ICOA’s resident writer from 2012 to 2014.
Wickrematunge was ambushed by eight men on motorcycles at the height of the war between the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers rebel group. The Sunday Leader took no position on the war but reported on atrocities committed by both sides. A practicing lawyer, Samarasinghe worked as a consulting editor and investigative journalist for the paper. She and Wickrematunge had received many death threats but remained committed to independent journalism.
“I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom, but as an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts.”
Lasantha Wickrematunge, Sri Lankan journalist murdered in 2009
“Never did we even privately think about changing our jobs, or not doing what we were doing,” Samarasinghe told the BBC. “We were there fighting for democracy, so it never entered our mind to give this up.”
Wickrematunge was murdered exactly two months after the two were married. After he died, The Sunday Leader and other news outlets published a 2,500-word column he had written for publication in the event of his murder. “I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom, but as an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts,” he wrote. The piece went viral. “I think it shook the world,” Samarasinghe said.
Fearing for herself and her family, Samarasinghe left the country two weeks after the murder. In exile, she went on to found and edit the weekly Morning Leader. She now works as a diplomat in Sri Lanka’s mission to the United Nations. You can listen to the podcast on the BBC’s Witness History website.