Last Words from Journalist Murdered in Sri Lanka

A documentary filmmaker whose work we've been following for Boing Boing's video projects sent us this note today:
A man I knew was gunned down last week in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. He was an editor and journalist, and he was murdered because he told the truth in a place where the truth runs you afoul of murderers. For those of us who knew him, and know Sri Lanka, his death was not a matter of how but when. He knew it too, and before he died he wrote the piece that I have attached here. I am asking you all to take just a few minutes to read it. As a favor. Thank you.
Here are the first few grafs of the piece, which were the last words written for publication by Lasantha Wickrematunge of The Sunday Leader:
No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. 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 honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. 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? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? 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, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

And Then They Came For Me (Sunday Leader)

See also this page where news about his death, and remembrances by colleagues at the paper, have been posted: "A deadly drive to work."

And here, news about protests following his killing.


  1. Wow. I salute a man who lived his life according to his principles to the last. This was genuinely a privilege to read.


  2. I can hardly imagine how anyone could be that courageous.

    May Wickrematunge’s memory be for a blessing. May the free media for which he worked, and for which he died, continue to speak truth to power in his name.

  3. A compelling story from a great man. Such selfless sacrifice restores my confidence in human nature. May he rest in peace.

  4. I wish our news media had enough courage to risk their paychecks on reporting the news. Much less risking their lives.

  5. Thank you all for your comments, I imagine it will mean a lot to friends and family. This story came to us from a close friend of the the show, and so it also means a lot to us personally to hear all that you’ve had to say.


    I can’t honestly believe that anyone lends any credibility to S. J. Wurzelbacher or anything that he says:

    “I think media should be abolished from, uh, you know, reporting.”

    How can anyone take that seriously? It’s an absolute travesty.

  6. “If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with the courage to which you have become accustomed. Do not take that commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.”

  7. xeni, im very sorry for your loss. in this case, it seems we all lose. he seems to have been a brave and courageous human being, and a credit to his profession. something ANY amerikan journalist could aspire to: telling the truth about what is going on out there. rest in peace, Lasantha Wickrematunge. u will b missed.

    1. @minTphresh and others — agree with your analysis of Lasantha’s work, and his final words. But I was not acquainted with the deceased, for the record. If you read the post, I’m explaining that this was a quoted note from a filmmaker who is a friend of Boing Boing.

  8. “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
    – Thomas Jefferson, November 13, 1787

    The tree of liberty is looking a bit greener in Sri Lanka. Hopefully someday, hopefully someday SOON, it’ll flourish.

  9. I literally got chills reading this, Xeni. Several times, in fact. Thanks for sharing.

    We can all only aspire to be as devoted to our respective arts as Lasantha Wickrematunge. His death is truly a loss.

  10. This paragraph chilled and inspired me at the same time…

    [Mahinda] You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

    What a way to name names. Much respect.

  11. I’m in Sri Lanka now, and was at the first protest after Lasantha’s death last week. I didn’t know the man, but was moved to tears a few times at the protest, and when reading his editorial. Moved by his bravery, by my care for Sri Lanka generally, and by this moment, which has stirred up a lot in some people here. For many others here it is probably not such a big deal, especially those who don’t read English (the language of the Sunday Leader), or who support the government in its suppression of others’ views.

    Still, i think now is a moment of opportunity to mobilize support for freedom in Sri Lanka, locally and through international attention. So if you are moved by this, please take the next step and contact your representatives asking them to speak up, write an editorial for your local paper, contact your favorite human rights group to see how you can get involved.

  12. Sri Lanka truly is an enigma when it comes to their seemingly state-sanctioned (at least not frowned upon) violence against journalists, being that is naturally such a beautiful and warm place. It is in a perverted way the type of command and conquer strategy that Donald Rumsfeld dreamed of in 2003, when he bombed Al-Jazeera’s Baghdad bureau.
    Lasantha Wickrematunge did truly have one of those “and then they came for me” moments. It is so incredibly sad.
    Sri Lanka’s journalists are also in the precarious position of living somewhere that is little more than a tourist curioso to the West. Point being, it’s hard to make us (the Royal “Us”) care about anything that goes on their beyond a passing interest, no matter how unjust or wrong the event may be. (Having lived in a piss-poor part of Africa for a time, I can say Sri Lanka is not alone there.)
    State-sanctioned aggression against the media exists in varying forms the world over, even here. Really, how many more steps does it take to get from the George Bush/Sarah Palin strategy “It’s the media’s fault I look like an idiot” to violently intimidating journalists to fall in line? I put forth not many.

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