Daily News Editorial
The Government should leave no stone unturned in getting to the bottom of the brutal attack on journalist Keith Noyahr, not only to do justice to the scribe, but also to ensure the protection and security of members of the fourth estate in the future. All regimes have been responsible for attacks on journalists but this reached new heights under the Rajapaksa dispensation where impunity reigned.
This was a time when the war raged and hence provided a perfect screen for those in power to attack or eliminate those not to their liking. This was the situation even during the second JVP uprising in the late eighties where scores were settled by various parties under cover of the brutalized environment. But the separatist war gave the powers that be a readymade cover for their acts by terming those who did not toe their as traitors, knowing this would be acceptable to the public. One recalls former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, during an interview, when asked about the Lasantha murder, saying; “Who is Lasantha. He is only one man. There are thousands dying today on the battlefield”. Such was the glibness in which that killing was treated, giving the act legitimacy.
Noyahr was just one journalist who was targeted during that era but lived to tell the tale or part of the tale. It is hoped he would come out with more and explicit details of the incident leading to the identity of all those who acted behind the scenes. Noyahr was abducted in May 2008, unlawfully detained, tortured, and released after pressure was brought to bear by influential circles in the media. He subsequently fled to Australia with his family, worse for the experience and maintained a lengthy silence on the matter. With the advent of the new government and investigations launched into all past attacks on journalists, Noyahr too would have felt the time was ripe to talk. It is not known if he was asked on the particularly the line of questioning he was subjected to. This, no doubt, would have provided the necessary information to the CID to form its own idea as to the masterminds behind the attack.
Noyahr, at the time of the incident wrote a Defence column for the Nation publication where he was Deputy Editor and certain material in it obviously had riled elements in the political and military establishment. The fact that the arrested military Intelligence officers formed part of a unit that carried out attacks on journalists, itself, is revealing. The CID should be commended for unearthing this “military safe house” from where these hit men operated that has now opened a trail leading to the hidden hand.
As argued in certain quarters, these military officers, on their own, had no reason to harm Noyahr and were obviously acting on orders from higher ups in the military, who were doing the bidding of certain VVIPs at the time. The abduction of Noyahr and the killing of Lasantha could not have been carried out so brazenly in the open at a time when the city was crawling with military personnel.
Now that a genuine effort is being made to ferret out those behind the attack on Noyahr, similar attacks that were carried out on lesser known scribes too should be investigated with the same thoroughness. The attacks on the Udayan press and the murder of Tamil journalists in the North should also gone into. This is because it was said that a certain pro government Tamil group, at the time, which assisted the military were behind such attacks and killings. There is also no probe on the arson attack on the Sirasa studios a day before the Lasantha murder. All such attacks were carried out to silence those media houses that were critical of the government.
The involvement of military personnel in attacks on journalists and other criminal acts, no doubt, has cast a pall on the entire military establishment. These elements have not only brought dishonour and disgrace to the military as a whole but have also let down their colleagues who made immense sacrifices to rid the country of the terrorist menace. The Joint Opposition which perennially blames the government for hounding war heroes, ranaviruwo has gone strangely silent following the latest arrests. Perhaps, realization has dawned on the leading lights of the JO that some “war heroes”, at least, are not what they are really painted out to be.
The government has done right in not trying to intervene in the arrest of the military personnel in the Noyahr case as with the Lasantha killing and the Ekneligoda disappearance, ignoring popular cries. There can be no one set of laws for “war heroes” and another for the ordinary man. Besides, treating military personnel differently, just because they fought in the war, will be a travesty of justice and a license to all “war heroes” to go on the rampage. No hue and cry was made by the pseudo patriots of the JO when Sarath Fonseka was thrown in the slammer.
Keith Noyahr’s assailants should be brought to book
Daily News Editorial
Nine years later, in two separate incidents five army personnel were arrested during the past few days for the inhuman assault on former Daily Mirror Deputy Editor and The Nation Newspaper Associate Editor Keith Noyahr on May 11, 2008. This follows similar arrests of Army intelligence officers after the defeat of the former regime at the presidential election on January 8, 2015 for the brutal killing of former Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickramatunga, the disappearance of Lanka e-news journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and the attempt on the life of former Divaina and Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon among others.
Noyahr and Tennakoon are still living whereas Ekneligoda’s fate is still unknown. Hence, only the two of the four former senior journalists can throw some light as eyewitnesses in identifying the assailants, who had attacked them in case they are among those arrested. Tennakoon and his wife have already identified several of those arrested as being among those who attempted to kill him. Noyahr, who is domiciled in Australia is yet to identify any of his assailants whether they are among those arrested.
When Ekneligoda went missing in 2009 many pointed fingers at an individual who was a minister in the previous regime as well as in the present. Breaking his silence after more than five years, even a former close buddy of that minister, after breaking ranks with him soon after the present government assumed office, called for an investigation into the fate of the web journalist for obvious reasons. But when the CID tracked several Army intelligence officers in connection with the case, the Opposition including that the former buddy of the said minister suddenly found the stripes of an LTTE cadre in the journalist. Some of those who accused the minister had also described the turn of events as a conspiracy against the war heroes who fought the LTTE in defence of the Motherland.
Upali Tennakoon cannot be described as a LTTE sympathizer, just because he had identified security forces personnel who made an attempt on his life. Throughout his journalistic career, he has been a Sinhala nationalist and a strong adversary of separatist forces. Nobody can justify the assault on Tennakoon just because the suspects are Army personnel, who may have personally dedicated and sacrificed their youth in the battlefront. For than matter even Noyahr was also a respected journalist who had never sided with or sympathized with the LTTE or any other secessionist elements.
There clearly seems to have been a far cry between the collective efforts of the security forces in fighting the separatist forces and some of the illegal actions of individual soldiers which had been carried out either for personal gains or on orders of higher ups with vested interest. During the well-known Chemmani case or Krishanthi Kumaraswamy rape and murder case nobody was able to justify the crime merely because the culprits were Army personnel with the entire country standing against them.
Validating our point further, during the previous regime 12 STF personnel were arrested in connection with the famous “Trincomalee five case” or the cold blooded killing of five students on the Trincomalle beach on January 6, 2006. Besides, the leaders of the Mahinda Rajapaksa government said the service rendered by former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka in defeating the LTTE cannot be offset by his personal actions and he was cashiered without even his pension and his medals, when he politically challenged President Rajapaksa as the then common opposition’s presidential candidate.
Needless to say that the security forces including the police and the Civil Security Department must be respected and given the due credit for their unparalleled dedication and sacrifice during the war against the dreaded LTTE. However, those arrested for attacks on the journalists including former Daily Mirror Deputy Editor and The Nation Newspaper Associate Editor Keith Noyahr should be brought to book.