Sunday Leader: Sri Lanka: Sunday, March 12, 2017.
Responding to a Right To Information (RTI) request by The Sunday Leader about assistance rendered by the Sri Lanka Army to the army personnel arrested for their alleged involvement in attacks on media personnel, Information Officer and Director Media Sri Lanka Army, Brigadier A. W. M. P. R. Seneviratne stated that SLA ‘unreservedly condemns’ attacks against ‘much-respected journalists’, specifically the abduction of Keith Noyahr, murder of Lasantha Wickrematunge, assault of Upali Tennekoon and forced disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda.
In a statement to The Sunday Leader, Director Media said that the army has a zero tolerance policy on human rights violators as evidenced by its action, related to the Premawathi Manamperi case in 1971, the Krishanthi Kumarasamy case and Rajani Velayudampillai case during the period 1995 – 2005 and it shall continue to pursue this policy. The references were made to cases in the past where army personnel involved in the mistreatment and murder of Sri Lankan citizens including JVP suspects were prosecuted with the full support of the army.
The statement came in response to a detailed questionnaire submitted by this newspaper under the RTI, seeking details of such support rendered by the army to those arrested by the CID, including instances wherein serving army personnel were dispatched to deliver food, clothing or other supplies to the suspects and where army vehicles or officers were used to escort or transport family members of the suspects to any court hearings. Condemning the attacks on media personnel under investigation by the CID, the statement pledged that the army ‘is fully committed to securing and advancement of the Fundamental Rights recognized by the Supreme Law, the Constitution’ and is guided by this mandate.
“The army, being a state organ, does not provide legal, financial and personal assistance and support to any army person, arrested and detained/remanded or enlarged on bail. The army is no more different to any other government institute and as an official body, it does not perform or employ any person under its command to perform such tasks,” the statement said.
The army further denied allegations of efforts to conduct surveillance against public officers and witnesses connected to the investigations into attacks on media personnel. The statement condemned such activities as ‘totally illegal’, and emphasized that ‘they do not come under the mandate given to the army’.
Five military intelligence personnel including a major were arrested last month and remain in remand custody on charges of having abducted and assaulted journalist Keith Noyahr in May 2008. A military intelligence warrant officer was arrested in July 2016 on charges of abducting Lasantha Wickrematunge’s driver in 2009 and threatening him with death for speaking of any connection between the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor and former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The warrant officer was later identified in two separate identification parades as having participated in the assault of Rivira Editor Upali Tennekoon.
Several military intelligence officers including a colonel and lieutenant colonel were arrested in 2015 for alleged complicity in the abduction and forced disappearance of Lanka-e-News cartoonist and journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda in January 2010.