Attacks on journalists: Elephant in the room and can of worms
Posted on August 29th, 2016

Editorial Courtesy The Island

Investigations into attacks on journalists under the previous government took a dramatic turn last week with former Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon and his wife, Dhammika, identifying a military intelligence officer who assaulted them on Jan. 23, 2009 in Gampaha. But for resistance offered by Upali and his wife courageously, the incident would have had a tragic ending.

It cannot be claimed by any stretch of the imagination that the assailants including the one identified by Upali and his wife, at an identification parade, acted on their own. They obviously carried out orders from on high and it is up to the investigators to stop beating about the bush and find out who really wanted journalists harmed. Let them question former UNP MP Joseph Michael Perera, who in his capacity as the Chief Opposition Whip, told Parliament on July 28, 2008 that a special army unit controlled by the then Army Commander Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka was responsible for attacks on journalists. Perera, on behalf of the then UNP-led Opposition, called for arresting those responsible forthwith. Now, the UNP is in a position to make arrests!

Strangely, the UNP, which levelled the aforesaid serious allegation, not only agreed to field Fonseka as the common opposition presidential candidate in 2010 but also backed him to the hilt. It enlisted his support to ensure President Maithripala Sirisena’s victory at the last presidential election, promoted him to the rank of Field Marshal and brought him to Parliament through the backdoor (read the National List) following his defeat at the last general election and made him a Cabinet Minister. He is now in the UNP!

It is not being argued that Fonseka is guilty as alleged so to speak. But, it behoves the UNP top guns who wept buckets for the media persons in distress under the previous government to make their position clear on their allegation against the army and Fonseka at that time. It is puzzling why the media rights groups have chosen to remain silent on this vital issue. Is it that they who are accused of toeing the government line do not want to open up a can of worms for their political masters?

Now that Upali and his wife have taken the trouble of coming all the way here from the US, where they are domiciled, to help bring those who harmed journalists to justice, the onus is on former Deputy Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr, to follow suit. Upali and his wife only saw their attacker for a few seconds while struggling to save their lives, but Keith was abducted, taken somewhere and ‘put to the question’ for a couple of hours in May 2008. So, being an experienced scribe, he must have been able to gather from the questions he was asked who was really behind his abduction. Having fled the country he is currently living in Australia. If he is wary of coming here for security reasons let him be urged to divulge information about his abductors from down under electronically.

Besides attacks on journalists, some of whom perished at the hands of their assailants, newspaper offices/printing presses and MTV and Siyatha TV studios were set on fire by goons loyal to the Rajapaksa government. Those incidents must also be reinvestigated thoroughly and the perpetrators of violence brought to justice. Better late than never! The government has rushed through Parliament a constitutional amendment, camouflaged as an ordinary Bill, to pave the way for setting up an office to investigate enforced disappearances since 1971. Why doesn’t it put in place a mechanism to investigate attacks on the media during the same period as well?

It is fervently hoped that, given the possible political ramifications of the probes being conducted into the attacks on journalists, the investigators won’t come up against a brick wall sooner or later.

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