Navy abduction case: A family’s despair | Sunday Observer

Navy abduction case: A family’s despair

Robert (left) and Renoshan Lyon. Pix: Rukmal Gamage
Robert (left) and Renoshan Lyon. Pix: Rukmal Gamage

Arippu, Mannar: For over 10 years the investigations into the now notorious Navy abductions case have lumbered on, as week upon week, the families of the victims trudge to the Colombo Fort Magistrates Court looking for answers and hoping for justice.

Since investigations began in 2009 the families were given a glimmer of hope, when last week, Attorney General Dappula De Livera instructed the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to expedite and conclude investigations into four high profile cases including the ‘Navy abductions’ case.

As the CID now tries to tie up the few remaining loose ends of the case in rural Arippu, the case against the abductors of his father and brother remain far from Renoshan Lyons’ mind. For him, the last 10 years has been a constant struggle. Faced with supporting a younger sister after losing both his parents and brother in a matter of years, Renoshan unlike the family members of other abductees, has chosen not to attend any court sessions leaving his uncle, Robert Lyon to fight a lone battle.

Renoshan’s father Amalan Lyon (48) and brother Roshan Lyon (20) went missing on August 25, 2008, from the Ramanathan Flats in Kotahena. A group of men had arrived in a white van, attacked a friend they were with and made away with the father and son. It was much later that Renoshan was informed of the Navy connection to his fathers and brothers’ disappearances.

Renoshan vividly remembers the day his father and older brother left Mannar - I dropped them off at the bus stand on the day, he recalled. Lyon who had received an appointment as a Sports Instructor in a government school had instead decided to study abroad. He was full of hope. His father had accompanied him to Colombo. In a matter of days, Roshan was to arrive in the United Kingdom ready to commence his higher studies. But that was never to be as father and son were both abducted by the unidentified group- never to return. Renoshan was just 15 at the time.

Receiving the news Renoshan’s distraught mother Asuntha Mary Peris and uncle, Robert Lyon had hurried to Colombo in search of them. “We reported them missing to the Kotahena Police Robert recalled,” adding that however, they were not able to find any leads on the fate of their family members.

Several months later receiving information from a family friend Robert visited the Naval Headquarters in Colombo. “I heard they were being held there,” he said. But Robert says Naval Officers asked him to return to his village. “They told me no one by that name is here,” he said.

When Robert returned to Arippu without news, his wife’s brother Asunatha was adamant that her husband and son be found. She became a very unhappy woman and did everything possible to find her husband and son, Robert said. As a result, she often would be tricked by unscrupulous fraudsters who promised to return her husband and child. She had paid Rs 500,000 to a man in Chettikulam who promised to bring them back, Robert said, adding that later it was revealed this man had connections to the Navy as well.

Renoshan also remembers several visits by men in jeeps. Often his mother would hand them money. Desperate to find her family members Asunatha had given money to anyone who assured her that her husband and son would be found. It is alright if they took money but at least then returned our loved ones, Robert says.

Unaware if any calls asking for ransom were made, Robert says Asuntha would often hide such things from the family afraid they would prevent her from paying the abductors off.

But suffering in silence she had hidden more unpleasant experiences from her family. In 2018, lying ill in bed Robert says his brother’s wife had called for him. Crying unbearably Asuntha had revealed how a friend of Amalan and his acquaintances would ask her to visit certain places on the promise that her husband and son would be returned to her. Asuntha had gone to various towns such as Anuradhapura, Jaffna, Chilaw and Vavuniya, where they abused her, he revealed. Having poured her heart out Asuntha died 24 hours later at the age of 54.

It was this very ‘friend’ that Asuntha mentioned that had betrayed Amalan to the Navy abduction gang. Arrested by the CID and now in remand custody, Negombo resident Anton Fernando had been an informant of the Navy abduction group led by Lieutenant Commander Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi alias Navy Sampath. He along with Naval Chief Petty Officer Sampath Janaka Kumara had woven the web to nab Amalan. Prior to the abduction, Anton had worked his way into Amalan’s circle of friends. “There was no better friend than Anton according to my brother,” Robert said, recalling how Anton Fernando would often visit Amalan’s home in Arippu where he was treated like royalty. “He trusted people too easily, this was my brother’s weakness,” Robert said.

We now know that Anton was a Navy informant. The CID believes Amalan along with Roshan were first kept at the infamous Pittu Bambuwa within the Naval Headquarters and later taken to Gun Site where other victims had also been forcibly held. This information is based on the statement given by Naval Sailor Dushantha Kottegoda who claimed he transported the abducted men from the naval prison in Colombo to the Gun Site in Trincomalee. He had claimed that he saw the father and son at Pittu Bambuwa after they had been brought there by the abduction gang.

Kottegoda was arrested by the CID in March this year. The betrayal by Anton Fernando has now left Amalan’s family destitute. Renoshan often whiles away the time waiting for his uncle to return from sea. They give him some fish which he sells in return for a small commission, Robert says. Having to safeguard his sister, Renoshan can’t join them to set out to sea. The brother and sister are now merely left with the many photographs of their parents and brother which dot the walls of their home.

Having been warned by his mother to never attend any court hearings Renoshan has not gone to the Colombo Fort Magistrates court in recent times. Asuntha had worried her remaining children would also be taken away by the gang. She worried about the intelligence services and warned me never to go, he said. Instead, his Uncle Robert has been attending the court sessions when possible. Even he has been unable to convince Renoshan to attend courts.

When told of the directive by the Attorney General, “Let’s see what the court decides,” Renoshan says. Accepting his loved ones are long gone Robert’s only concern is the future of his young niece and nephew.

Visiting the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Robert says his only request was that they provide the necessary support to the children to continue their lives.

For how long can they depend on others, Robert asks. The delay in receiving the requested support has left Robert disgruntled. I don’t think the OMP is of any use he opined. Nor does he have confidence in the court process. We saw how some powerful people tried to intervene and derail the case, so how can we believe justice will be delivered in spite of the recent turn of events, he questioned.

But despite the troubles, Renoshan does not care for financial or any other support from the authorities. While his Uncle is convinced his father and brother are no more Renoshan hangs on to hope like many other victims’ families. If I can just see my father and brother once more, that is all I need, he said. 


Whistleblower Welagedara hounded, appeals to HRCSL

Lieutenant Commander Krishan Welagedara

In 2012 Lieutenant Commander Krishan Welagedara became the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) star witness by providing a damning statement which helped the CID to establish that 11 youth abducted by a Navy Abduction for Ransom gang was held at Gun Site within the Trincomalee Naval Base. While his statement not only confirmed the last known location of the youth, it also gave investigators important clues as to their eventual tragic end. But since assisting the Police, Welagedara has claimed he has been endlessly persecuted for telling his story. As the CID is now attempting to wrap up investigations the former Naval Intelligence Officer has for over a year tried to retire early from the Navy and join his family in Australia. Welagedara is now alleging that the Minister of Defence is, however, blocking his move to leave the force despite receiving the go-ahead from the Navy.

Writing yet again to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) this week Welagedara claimed that in the latest turn of events the Ministry of Defence has referred both his early retirement recommendation and his overseas leave request to the Attorney General’s Department. Welagedara had labelled the move as highly irregular claiming yet another witness in the case Lieutenant Commander Laksiri Geethal was able to secure his early retirement and migrate abroad without any hindrance. “It raises the question as to why I have been singled out,” Welagedara said adding that while he is currently abroad visiting his family the delay caused by the Ministry of Defence would force him to return to Sri Lanka till his retirement scheduled for August 2019 is approved by the Attorney General’s Department. “It would make me vulnerable to threats once again,” the Naval Officer noted. It was these same threats that forced his family to move abroad in 2016. Welagedara in his letter also questioned the Attorney General Department’s jurisdiction over the retirement and leave of a Naval Officer.

Detailing the harassment meted out to him within the force Welagedara in his letter also pointed out attempts by right-wing politicians to label him as a traitor. Thrown in prison and later having to face a full court martial for the frivolous charge of being absent without leave, he claimed he had been threatened and his promotions withheld. Having to work among those he provided evidence against is also a constant threat to his life Welagedara noted.

“While those who issued threats against me continue to work in the Navy, more seriously yet another former Navy Commander accused in the case, Admiral Ravindra Wijegunaratne also continues to serve as the Chief of Defence Staff, and is the highest ranking officer in the armed forces,” he said in his letter to the HRCSL.