Richard Manik de Zoysa (18 March 1958– 18 February 1990) was a well-known Sri Lankan journalist, author, human rights activist and actor, who was abducted and murdered on 18 February 1990. His murder caused widespread outrage inside the country, and is widely believed to have been carried out by a death squad linked to elements within the government.
de Zoysa was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He was of mixed ethnicity, his father a majority Sinhalese and mother Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu, a prominent medical surgeon from the minority Sri Lankan Tamil community. His mother’s father, Manicasothy Saravanamuttu, was a prominent journalist and diplomat of Malaya. 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 nationional inter school, Shakespeare Drama Competition in 1972. He was a member of the Debating Team and Drama Society along with Chanaka Amaratunga. 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 beliefs.
de Zoysa’s murder is widely believed to have been carried out be a death squad that was formed under the auspices of members of the government to crush the insurrection launched by the militant Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) organization. Since 1987, when the insurrection was launched, these death squads are alleged to have killed thousands of alleged JVP members in an ultimately successful attempt to quell the rebellion. They are also alleged to have killed political opponents, including de Zoysa, who was linked to the JVP.
Dr. Rajiva Wijesinha, a political analyst and Secretary-General of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), has repeatedly said that de Zoysa’s murder was the turning point for the death squads. He claims that with the JVP insurrection largely over and the usefulness of the death squads coming to an end, President Ranasinghe Premadasa used de Zoysa’s murder and the subsequent outcry against it as a reason to call a halt to the killings carried out by the death squads, which were formed during his predecessors era.
UN award in his memory
An award in recognition of independent journalism was established by the UN sponsored Inter Press Service news agency in de Zoysa’s memory.
Rajiva Wijesinha wrote a novel based on the life and death of Richard de Soyza titled ” Limits of Love” . Published after the death Richards mother in 2005, it has some controversial revelations including explicit references to homosexuality of the titular character.