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Sri Lankan court orders new autopsy on slain editor

September 8, 2016

A Sri Lankan court Thursday ordered a new autopsy on the body of a high-profile anti-establishment newspaper editor whose 2009 murder under the previous regime remains unsolved.

A magistrate agreed to a police criminal investigation unit’s request for the fresh forensic report on the killing of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunga, a police official said.

“We are guarding the grave site pending the exhumation,” the unnamed official at Colombo’s main cemetery told AFP. “The court order to carry out the exhumation on September 27 has just been issued.”

President Maithripala Sirisena came to power at 2015 elections pledging action against criminal and corrupt individuals under former ruler Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime.

A former minister in Rajapakse’s government has publicly accused the autocrat’s brother Gotabhaya Rajapakse of ordering Wickrematunga’s murder.

Gotabhaya, then secretary to the ministry of defence, has denied involvement, but rights groups say there is strong evidence the military played a role. An army intelligence officer was arrested in July in connection with the killing.

Rajapakse has faced wide criticism of his government’s dismal rights record. More than a dozen reporters and other media persons were killed during his decade-long rule.

Gunmen shot dead Wickrematunga in his car in Colombo in January 2009, according to police at the time, with the crime sparking international outrage.

But a police source said on Thursday that there was also a “suggestion that he was stabbed in the head with a very sharp instrument”.

“We need to establish how he was killed,” the source said asking not to be named, “before we can start a prosecution”.

Editor Wickrematunga and his newspaper were staunch critics of Rajapakse and his family who are accused of illegally amassing huge wealth during their rule.

The paper had accused Gotabhaya of corruption over the purchase of second-hand aircraft and arms for the military.

Separately on Thursday, a close aide of Gotabhaya was sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court, along with four others, over the 2011 killing of a politician from their own party.

Duminda Silva was convicted of killing a rival member of the then ruling party during a local election.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.