Impunity and the Power of the Press in Sri Lanka

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By: Peter Savodnik, Guest Blogger

On Christmas Eve 2011, Khuram Shaikh was murdered and his girlfriend, Victoria Tkacheva, was gang-raped while they were vacationing at a resort on the southernmost tip of Sri Lanka. Soon after, eight suspects, including Sampath Chandra Pushpa Vidanapathirana, a local political figure with ties to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, were arrested. Eleven months later, they were released on bail. One imagines the regime hoped that everyone would just forget about it and move on, and that is basically what happened. Of course, Khuram’s family, starting with his brother, Nasser, never forgot. But most everyone else did, and the story receded into the morass of terrible stories, in Sri Lanka and elsewhere.

Then, on Wednesday, July 24, NewYorker.com posted a 14-minute movie that was produced by my media company, Stateless Media, about Nasser’s quest for justice. I reported the story, and I worked with two brilliant filmmakers. Kannan Arunasalam, in Sri Lanka, was artful and fearless; he helped illustrate the beauty and darkness of a country that is still struggling to figure out what it wants to be after a 26-year civil war that ended in 2009. Ed Perkins, in Manchester, managed to capture, rather poignantly, Nasser’s complicated family life and to bring out some of the emotional forces that have shaped his thinking about his brother. Together, Kannan and Ed wove together a story that is heartbreaking, mystifying, awful, and, at moments, redemptive.

On Sunday, July 28, the government in Sri Lanka suddenly announced that the eight men believed to have murdered Khuram and to have raped Victoria would be indicted. We can’t know for sure what prompted this announcement—and we can’t say whether those indictments will materialize—but we are cheered by the thought that a little journalism may have done a lot of good. One hopes.

Peter Savodnik is a journalist currently based in Washington, DC. His book, The Interloper: Lee Harvey Oswald Inside the Soviet Union, will be published in October by Basic Books.

Photo Caption: Nasser Shaikh leaves flowers at the grave of his brother, Khuram Shaikh.
Screengrab from The New Yorker

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