It is with shock and dismay that we note the abduction of Deputy Editor and defence columnist of The Nation newspaper Keith Noyahr on Thursday night. Injured at the hands of his abductors who descended on him opposite his house, he is now receiving treatment in hospital. With that assault, the Sri Lanka media has suffered another body blow.
The knee-jerk reaction of the government was to deploy a special police team to investigate the incident and give wide publicity to that move so as to let the whole world know something was being done. But, it is very likely that the much flaunted probe will draw a blank in the end, as is the way with all investigations into attacks on journalists.
Many journalists have been either killed or assaulted during the past so many years. But, none of the probes save one or two have been conducted to a successful conclusion and culprits brought to justice. Those who were responsible for killing Richard de Zoysa, D. Sivaram, Rohana Kumara, Sampath Lakmal, M. Nimalarajan, Nadaraja Arputharaja, S. Nadesu, Subash Chandraboas, Selvarahj Rajivarman et al have got away with their crimes. Many other journalists like veteran cartoonist Yunus, the Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge have been assaulted and their assailants never brought to justice.
Noyahr s ordeal has proved once again that the culture of impunity has come to stay in this country. Attacking journalists seems to have become an easier task than throwing stones at stray dogs. Perpetrators of violence against the media are confident of going scot free as was seen in the case of the Mervyn Silva fiasco at the Rupavahini Corporation last December. Thereafter, a number of Rupavahini workers were roughed up and knifed by underworld elements. The police were ordered to conduct probes but no breakthroughs were made. On the day of Vesak, last week in the holy township of Kelaniya, where Mervyn Silva reigns supreme today, a Sirasa TV crew was set upon by a gang. The police are dragging their feet on the investigation into the attack and it is very likely that nothing will come of it.
All signs are that we are heading towards a situation like that in Columbia, where it is said a journalist is free to write anything and anyone is equally free to kill him or her for writing that! The press can easily do without that kind of freedom of expression, can t it?
The performance of the government in investigating attacks on the press has been execrable, to say the least. It was only yesterday that we pointed out the Human Rights Watch assertion that Sri Lanka s loss of her UNHRC seat should serve as a wake-up call for the government.
We are wary of venturing guesses as to who Noyahr s abductors are, for want of conclusive evidence. But, we have no difficulty in agreeing with the Free Media Movement which argues that the government won t cease to be a suspect until the perpetrators are brought to book. That is a fair and cogent argument!
The only way the government can clear its name is to have the attack on Noyahr thoroughly probed, culprits arrested and deterrent punishment meted out. The mere deployment of a police team followed by a press conference is not the way to set about the task.
Such measures have the trappings of a face saving exercise.