MR questioned by CID on Keith Noyahr abduction | Sunday Observer

MR questioned by CID on Keith Noyahr abduction

The Joint Opposition (JO) created a big hullabaloo last week over the questioning of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa regarding the abduction and assault of then Deputy Editor of The Nation Keith Noyahr. This tells us that they, and Rajapaksa himself, have yet to get their act together.

The day Rajapaksa was being questioned by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID), JO parliamentarians thronged to Rajapaksa’s official residence in their numbers in a show of strength, turning the event in to a media circus. It was as if Rajapaksa was being hanged, drawn and quartered in public.

Emerging from his residence after the interview, Rajapaksa didn’t do himself any favours either. He lashed out at his private secretary Udith Lokubandara for bringing him into the midst of a media scrum. In language that hardly befits a former Head of State, Rajapaksa said, ‘maawa ussagena aawaney mekata, moda yakek moo’ (‘I was dragged here, he is a fool’).

Then, Rajapaksa was whingeing about his plight, saying that he was the subject of a political witch hunt. He was also nonchalant about what he was quizzed, saying that he cannot recall the telephone call he received from Karu Jayasuriya, who was at that time a minister in his Cabinet, informing him of Noyahr’s abduction. That was because so many people called him, Rajapaksa said.

At the end of Rajapaksa’s tirade against the ‘Government’, we did see a glimpse of the old, affable Rajapaksa with a sense of humour, when he said that the call he received from Jayasuriya was at eleven o’clock at night and that proved he didn’t go to bed at ten o’clock- a casual dig at President Maithripala Sirisena who once said that no matter what happens, he was in bed by ten o’clock.

But let us get our facts straight in this saga, shall we? A senior journalist was abducted and tortured at a time when Rajapaksa was President. When he went missing, alarm bells rang among his colleagues who frantically contacted Jayasuriya who contacted Rajapaksa. Within hours, Noyahr was released. Under Rajapaksa’s watch, there was no satisfactory investigation into the incident.

All the CID was doing was recording Rajapaksa’s statement regarding what transpired that day. Previously, they had similarly recorded Jayasuriya’s statement. We didn’t see Jayasuriya whining and saying that he was being hounded by the Police, did we? He merely gave his statement and went about his business.

The Police, at the outset, made it clear that they were not treating Rajapaksa as a suspect. They extended Rajapaksa the courtesy of being interviewed at his residence instead of requesting him to attend at their offices. From all accounts, they were extremely courteous during the interview, so what is Rajapaksa and the JO complaining about?

A main argument resorted to by the JO against this Government is that the Government did not prove its claims of corruption and abuse of power during the Rajapaksa regime. Therefore, argues the JO, such corruption and abuse of power did not happen, and so they should be voted in to office again.

It is indeed this Government’s misfortune that they were twiddling their collective thumbs for three and a half years and not prosecuting those responsible for the misdeeds of the former regime. Although it might be too little to late, now they have begun to do so. This week saw the special High Court to hear cases of fraud and corruption begin its work.

However, the JO cannot claim on the one hand that their misdeeds haven’t been proven and they are therefore innocent and then cry foul when those misdeeds are probed in a systematic manner, at the direction of Police- and that is precisely what the JO and Rajapaksa are doing.

The claims of a political witch hunt are particularly rich, when they come from Rajapaksa. That is because we do still remember what happened to Sarath Fonseka who was once dubbed the ‘best Army Commander in the world’ by Rajapaksa himself.

Fonseka was made to suffer the ignominy of being dragged by soldiers who were far below his rank and taken into custody. He was court martialled, stripped of his rank and deprived of his pension and put in a prison cell where he had to plead in court get basic amenities.

All this happened during Rajapaksa’s tenure and was for the ‘crime’ of contesting Rajapaksa in a presidential election. And now, Rajapaksa is complaining of a ‘political witch hunt’ because he was questioned in his own home for a few hours!

For Rajapaksa, the JO and their acolytes, the greater offence is Rajapaksa being subject to questioning- not the abduction and assault of Noyahr. There is no doubt in journalistic circles that what Noyahr experienced that day was a ‘near death experience’ and if not for the intervention of Karu Jayasuriya he wouldn’t be alive today.

One of the reasons this particular investigation is not moving at express pace is reportedly Noyahr’s reluctance to return to Sri Lanka for an identification parade. Soon after the incident, Noyahr fled the country and is now domiciled in Australia.

The scars of the event obviously still hurt deeply which is why Noyahr has declined to return, despite assurances being provided by the Government that he will be safe. Such was the brutality that was dished out- and yet, the complaint is about the recording of a statement!

No one is claiming that Mahinda Rajapaksa is personally responsible for what happened to Keith Noyahr. However, he did fail to investigate the incident thoroughly. He did also take that decisive telephone call from Jayasuriya, after which Noyahr was indeed released. That is why he is being questioned because that is a reasonable line of investigation. If he has nothing to hide, he should welcome the inquiry, instead of complaining about it.

Keith Noyahr was abducted, assaulted and returned on the night of May 22, 2008. The incident hit the headlines and generated much publicity. Photographs of a battered and bruised Noyahr were splashed across the front pages of newspapers. The news was beamed to capitals across the world. The incident was condemned universally. One would have thought that it created sufficient heat to deter such attacks, at least for a period of time. Yet, less than eight months later, Lasantha Wickrematunge, the editor of The Sunday Leader was brutally murdered on the streets.

Keith Noyahr was lucky. Unfortunately, Lasantha Wickrematunge wasn’t. We would like to know why. That is why Mahinda Rajapaksa is being questioned, not because it is a political witchhunt.