The California District Court in the US has dismissed a case filed by Ahimsa Wickramatunga, daughter of slain journalist Lasantha Wickremetunga against former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Rajapaksa was linked to the murder of Wickremetunga, the former Editor of The Sunday Leader newspaper.
The Court held that it lacks the jurisdiction to consider Wickrematunge’s claims, because, in the court’s view, Rajapaksa is entitled to common law foreign official immunity for the acts that are alleged—acts of torture, extrajudicial killing, and crimes against humanity.
The Court found that these acts were committed in his official capacity as Sri Lanka’s Secretary of Defense.
The Court made no finding on the actual merits of the allegations against Rajapaksa, which include his alleged responsibility for the extrajudicial killing of Lasantha Wickrematunge and for the Sri Lankan government’s campaign of violence against journalists during Sri Lanka’s civil war.
The decision comes even though Lasantha’s assassination was neither authorized nor ratified by the Sri Lankan Government, and Rajapaksa presented no evidence to suggest the contrary.
Plaintiff and her counsel will challenge the decision. “This is a disappointing setback in my family’s long fight for justice on behalf of my father, as well as for the movement to end impunity for the killing of journalists in Sri Lanka. My father was a civilian driving to his office when he was brutally assassinated on the street. Killing a journalist because of their reporting should never be seen as an official state act and my lawyers and I will continue to fight to ensure perpetrators of these abuses do not escape justice,” says Ahimsa Wickrematunge.
“An end to impunity is precisely what the Torture Victim Protection Act was designed to provide in cases like this. There is no immunity when government officials act outside their authority to torture and murder journalists. Defendant Rajapaksa, a U.S. citizen, can and must be held accountable in U.S. courts,” says Natalie L. Reid of Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, counsel to Ahimsa. (Colombo Gazette)