12 May 2016

The forgotten files of abduction, assault and assassination

In short all disappearances must be investigated.  You cannot point to some ‘arranged-disappearances’ such as those of many LTTE cadres as reason for not initiating inquiries into all disappearances.  You cannot say ‘they were terrorists’; even the disappearances of such individuals should be investigated.  



After the late Lalith Athulathmudali was killed in April 1993, many pointed fingers at the then president Ranasinghe Premadasa whose wrath the murdered man had earned by breaking away from the United National Party along with Gamini Dissanayake and others to form the Democratic United National Front (DUNF).  President Premadasa vehemently denied involvement and publicly declared his innocence. 

A commission was appointed by President Chandrika Kumaratunga to probe the assassination as part of an election pledge, even through investigations carried out by the Police and Scotland Yard had concluded that Athulathmudali was killed by Appiah Balakrishnan aka Ragunathan, allegedly an LTTE affiliate.  That findings of the commission implicated President Premadasa by the logic of association.  Later, these conclusions were set aside in the Writ Application Nos. 1, 2 and 3 of 1999 filed in the Supreme Court by Sirisena Cooray, and former DIG Seneviratne.

Now, more than 23 years after Athulathmudali was assassinated, his brother Dayantha, speaking the Lalith Athulathmudali Memorial Lecture on May 9, 2016, has called for a fresh probe.  Much has been written about these several investigations and the entire affair has been shrouded by controversy and intrigue, leaving the general public still in doubt as to the true identity of the assassin and his paymaster.  As such, Dayantha Athulathmudali has all the right to demand a fresh probe. 

Some might object pointing out to the date of the crime and the length of time that has since passed.  However, if truth is the objective then time cannot be an objection.  This is exactly what’s wrong with the various calls for probes regarding alleged war crimes.  It is wrong to privilege a particular time period, especially in a war that lasted close to three decades. 

A death does not become a lesser death with the passing of time.  A crime remains a crime of the same magnitude even a hundred years later.  Victims, similarly, are not lesser victims as others become victims of similar atrocities.  If closure for the near and dear is what is sought, then it has to be ‘closure for all’ and not ‘closure for some’.  Dayantha Athulathmudali’s appeal, I believe, has helped emphasize this point with regard to the pernicious nature of war crimes probes.  It does more.  

For example, we periodically read missives from various human rights outfits (with or without dubious agenda and appalling track records with respect to selectivity and exaggeration) listing the names of ‘journalists’ who have ‘disappeared’.   Prageeth Ekneligoda is just one of them.  The adamant refusal of such do-gooders to explore the full identities of these ‘journalists’ is troubling, to put it mildly.  Journalists are no saints and a media identification card is no license to violate the law.   If a journalist is also a terrorist, he or she should be described as such and not simply as ‘a journalist’.  The issue here is that such refusal is an obstacle when it comes to investigating wrongs done to real journalists.   

This is not to say that any extra-judicial killing (for example) should go un-investigated.  That’s a different issue altogether.  The relevance of the Athulathmudali case here is the strange silence from most quarters about the attacks on two prominent journalists: Upali Tennakoon (Editor-in-Chief, ‘Rivira’) and Keith Noyhr (Associate Editor, ‘The Nation’).  The former was attacked and sustained stab injuries. He survived and eventually left the country.  The latter was abducted and assaulted.  He may very well have been killed had not his ‘disappearance’ been reported early and his friends moved in quickly and effectively to mobilize all possible resources to find him.  His abductors let him go.  Keith also left the country. 

Noyhr was abducted in May 2008.  Tennekoon was attacked in January 2009.  That they are still alive is irrelevant to the fact of investigation.  Their assailants are still at large in the eyes of the law. Almost everyone seems to have forgotten that the Lalith Athulathmudali assassination case has not been closed. Some people thought fit to exhume Wasim Thajudeen (a rugby player, not a journalist). Others are determined to find the fate of Ekneligoda (whose journalistic credentials are thin but who has a fat CV in terms of being involved in various rackets).  The point is that vocation does not matter; the fact of assault and/or murder does.  The point is that time-elapsed is not a factor in the decision to investigate to conclusion; investigation matters. 

In short all disappearances must be investigated.  You cannot point to some ‘arranged-disappearances’ such as those of many LTTE cadres as reason for not initiating inquiries into all disappearances.  You cannot say ‘they were terrorists’; even the disappearances of such individuals should be investigated.  What is suspicious in all this is the selectivity in action and non-action as well as the ‘heart-rending’ cries of those seeking justice for the abducted, assaulted and disappeared. 

Keith Noyhr and Upali Tennakoon are two names that have been conveniently (shall we say?) absented from the violence-discourse in recent years.  Just like Lalith Athulathmudali.   

The question is simple: why?  We have a government whose movers and shakers have shouted themselves hoarse on the subject of human rights, law and order, investigations into allegations of abuse and so on.   

There’s been enough screaming.  Let’s see some action.  The demand is not for relevant authorities to drop all cases and pick up the files on Athulathmudali, Noyhr and Tennekoon only.  All files need to be re-opened.  These ones cannot be let un-opened. 

This article was published in the Daily Mirror (May 12, 2016).  

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer.  Email: malindasenevi@gmail.com.  Twitter: malindasene.
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