Richard de Zoysa was born in Colombo, Sri Lanka in March of 1958. His mother was, Dr Manorani Saravanamuttu, a prominent surgeon of the Tamil community and his father, Lucien de Zoysa, was Sinhalese. As a young man he was educated at S. Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia. It was here that his acting talents were first notice and encouraged. While in college he was also a member of the Drama Society and the Debating Team.
It was in the early 80s that de Zoysa starred in his first film, Yuganthaya. This work, which was based on a novel and directed by Lester James Perie, depicted the rise of capitalism . He would go on to act in The Way of the Lotus in 1987. This was a psychological drama which focused on the life of a Buddhist man’s belief system.
Abduction and Death
Around this same time period de Zoysa was working as the head of the Colombo office of the Inter Press Service. This was a non-profit news agency which was founded in 1964 and focused on the development of surrounding communities.
On the 18th of February of 1990, while living in the home of his mother, Dr Manorani Saravanamuttu, de Zoysa was kidnapped. Armed men broke into their home and forcible removed the actor. They drove off without an explanation for their actions. De Zoysa’s mother immediately went to the Welikada police station and reported the abduction. It only took one day for the police to find the writer’s body on a beach.
The kidnappers had dumped his body south of the city in Moratuwa. De Zoysa had been beaten and shot. A strong backlash by the public resulted from the murder, but there was no real action on behalf of the government. This, along with other evidence, has led many to believe the kidnapping was orchestrated by the government. At one point, de Zoysa’s mother identified one of the kidnappers on television. He was a high-ranking police officer. Any leads offered by Dr. Manorani Saravanamuttu were ignored.
De Zoysa’s mother became an activist, dedicating her life to searching for missing people. It was not until 2005 that two men, both of whom were police officers, were indicted for the murder. They were later acquitted that same year. Since his death, an award has been founded by the UN in de Zoysa’s name, in recognition of independent journalism. You can read Zoysa’s poetry here.