Richard De Zoysa: Versatile actor, fearless journalist | Daily News


Richard De Zoysa: Versatile actor, fearless journalist

A tribute on his 62nd birth anniversary:

Richard Manik de Zoysa was a well-known journalist, author, human rights activist and actor, born on March 18, 1958. De Zoysa was born in Colombo. He was of mixed ethnicity, his father Lucien de Zoysa, a Sinhalese and his mother Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu, a prominent medical surgeon from the Tamil community. Richard was a symbol for peace and ethnic harmony in Sri Lanka, but was unfortunately murdered in the prime of his adulthood.

He was educated at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia, where his acting talents in Sinhala were encouraged by D.S. Jayasekera. He was adjudged Best Actor in the English medium at the national inter-school Shakespeare Drama Competition in 1972. He was a member of the school’s Debating Team and Drama Society.

In 1983, de Zoysa starred in Lester James Peries's film Yuganthaya alongside Gamini Fonseka. The role of socialist Malin Kabalana in the movie closely mirrored de Zoysa's own values and beliefs. This film was based on a novel written by Martin Wickramasinghe and directed by Dr. Lester James Peris.

In 1987 he acted in another Sinhala film, Sathyagrahanaya directed by Nimal Weerawantha. His last cinematic role was that of Aravinda in Dr. Tissa Abeysekara’s film Viragaya.

Richard also acted in the highly popular Sinhala teledrama Yashorawaya. He was well known since he was an English TV news anchor and an outstanding journalist with remarkable skills and of course, because of his charisma as an actor in cinema and TV.

He was abducted and murdered on February 18, 1990. His murder caused widespread outrage in the country, and is widely believed to have been carried out by a death squad linked to elements within the then government.

The death squad was formed under the auspices of members of then (1990) government to crush the insurrection launched by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP). They are also alleged to have killed other political opponents.

At the time of his abduction and murder, de Zoysa was the head of the Colombo office of the Inter Press Service. He lived in the Welikadawatte housing estate with his mother, Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu and associate A.V. Karunaratne. Early in the morning of February 18, 1990, an armed group broke into their home, and forcibly removed de Zoysa and drove off without explanation.

His mother then lodged a complaint at the Welikada Police Station. The following day, de Zoysa’s lifeless body was washed ashore at Lunawa Beach, Moratuwa, some 12 miles south of Colombo.

Richard had been tortured and his body was mutilated, with his jaw broken. He had been finally shot in the head and the throat. The speculation is that his body was dropped from a helicopter flying at a certain height with the expectation that the body would sink to the bottom of the sea and never be found. He was killed one week before he was to leave Sri Lanka to be the IPS Bureau Chief at their Lisbon office.

There was another speculation that De Zoysa had helped produce a satirical play that was savagely critical of the then President. The controversial play was called Me kawda? Monawada karanne? (‘Who is he and what is he doing?’), but the curtain never went up. The producer of the play disappeared and is believed to have been murdered. The Government banned the international TIME magazine’s April 23, 1990, issue which carried out an investigative article about Richard. Imported copies of the magazine were seized by the Customs.

Richard De Zoysa was a multifaceted personality who left a lasting impression during a short but prolific creative life span. He was a media critic, announcer, teledrama and stage actor, author and journalist. Richard was posthumously awarded the 1990 IPS International Achievement Award. The IPS Award for Excellence in Independent Journalism was also named in his honour.

As a student, I watched the English News telecast over Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC) as a habit. I had to collect foreign news and present it to the class in my school for the Political Science period. In 1990, I was preparing for the G.C.E. Advanced Level Examination. I studied until 9.00 pm and sat to watch news as usual. The news reader was not my favourite announcer Richard De Zoysa. The news reader was reading one of the most shocking news items I ever heard in my life. That was about the murder of Richard De Zoysa. On that night, I became determined to become a journalist one day…to fight for real journalists, real human rights activists and real human beings who stand by fellow citizens…not those who sling mud on anyone for personal gain.

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