Brutal February | Daily News

Brutal February

Vijaya Kumaratunga and  Richard de Zoysa
Vijaya Kumaratunga and Richard de Zoysa

February is the darkest month of the year for journalists, artistes etc. who lived in Sri Lanka during the terror period from 1988 to 1990. Many patriotic, independent, talented and innocent prominent personalities were murdered in broad daylight during this period purely due to political reasons. The list of gunned-down journalists, scholars, artistes etc. is very long; and there are two prominent most innocent and very talented sons of Mother Lanka who had been murdered during this month.

The murder of Richard de Zoysa on February 18, 1990, just one month before his 32nd birthday, marked the darkest day of Sri Lankan journalism and media freedom. The murder of Vijaya Kumaratunga on February 16, 1988, marked the darkest day in Sri Lanka’s peaceful politics and the film industry. This year we mark the 31st death anniversary of Richard de Zoysa and the 33rd death anniversary of Vijaya Kumaratunga.

During the past five years, we talked about media freedom and the journalists and politicians who had been murdered but we never remembered or talked about any of them. We had to ignore some of them due to certain political reasons and we were biased. But as journalists and patriotic citizens of Mother Lanka, we must remember and pay tribute to all of them no matter who killed them, and why and when they were killed. We should not remember and talk about a few specific individuals who had dark sides in their lives, who had been involved in questionable activities for money or any other personal benefits and who had been very clearly biased towards one political party or a group of individuals. The only work done by some of the late ‘journalists’ who had been remembered all the time during the past five years was slinging mud at selected individuals due to personal issues, without engaging in genuine journalism at all.

We must remember and talk about all of them without any difference. Moreover, we have to do this in order to educate the young generation of Sri Lanka. They do not have an in-depth knowledge about the terror period that existed in Sri Lanka at that time and its consequences. They do not know about any of those innocent prominent personalities murdered for no reason; they do not know how fearful the life for journalists and the public was at that time. Therefore, it is essential to educate the young generation of Sri Lanka about the recent history of the country. Otherwise, they tend to think that ‘heroic journalists’ of Sri Lanka are the individuals whose names had been regularly mentioned during the past five years in order to gain political advantages. Some of them were just ordinary people who engaged in some other jobs and who slung mud at selected popular individuals for money and other benefits. The friends of those late ‘journalists’ are still slinging mud at some individuals due to personal reasons and they do it right now not only from Sri Lanka but also from abroad.

Richard Manik de Zoysa (March 18, 1958 – February 18, 1990)

Richard Manik de Zoysa was a well-known Sri Lankan journalist, author, human rights activist and actor, who 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). Since 1987, when the insurrection was launched, these death squads were alleged to have killed thousands of alleged JVP members in an ultimately successful attempt to quell the rebellion. Most of them were Sinhala Buddhist youths. They were also alleged to have killed political opponents, including de Zoysa.

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 found on the beach near Moratuwa, some 12 miles south of Colombo. He had been shot in the head and the throat; his jaw was broken.

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. He was posthumously awarded the 1990 IPS International Achievement Award. The IPS Award for Excellence in Independent Journalism was renamed in his honour. It was in the early 80s that de Zoysa starred in his first film, Yuganthaya, which was based on a novel written by Martin Wickramasinghe and directed by Dr. Lester James Peiris. He acted in the highly popular Sinhala teledrama Yashorawaya. He was educated at S. Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia.

Vijaya Kumaratunga (October 9, 1945 – February 16, 1988)

Vijaya Kumaratunga was a popular Sri Lankan film actor, singer and a politician married to former Sri Lankan President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga from 1978 until his assassination in 1988. Kumaratunga was shot in the head with a Type 56 assault rifle outside his home on the outskirts of Colombo on February 16, 1988. The murderer confessed to the murder under questioning by the Criminal Investigation Department. In a 141-page statement, he said he had been carrying out orders given to him by the Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparaya (Patriotic People’s Movement), the military arm of a current minor political party, which was responsible for multiple assassinations in the late 1980s. However, a presidential commission report concluded that leaders of the then regime (1988) were behind the Kumaratunga assassination.

Kumaratunga’s funeral, on February 21, 1988, attracted huge crowds and was the first funeral to be broadcast live by the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation (SLRC). It was held at Independence Square in Colombo as a State funeral. The day of his assassination is widely known as “The Horrible Tuesday” or “The Darkest Tuesday in Sri Lankan History” since he was assassinated on a Tuesday. His death is still mourned by many people in Sri Lanka.

Kumaratunga started his political career in the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP). He later joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and became its first National Organizer. In his final public address to a large crowd in Colombo’s Campbell Park on January 28, 1988, Kumaratunga lashed out at the UNP, SLFP, and Janatha Vimuthki Peramuna (JVP) for failing to address the needs of the hour In 1988, the Sri Lanka Mahajana Pakshaya (SLMP) reached an agreement with several other left-wing parties including the LSSP, Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP), Sri Lanka Communist Party, and Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) to form the United Socialist Alliance (USA).

A few days prior to the establishment of the new alliance, Kumaratunga was assassinated.

Kumaratunga’s first film was Hanthane Kathawa directed by Sugathapala Senarath Yapa in which he played the lead role. In a career that spanned nearly two decades, he acted in 123 films. He also performed as a playback singer in several films and recorded more than 100 songs.