21 July, 2019

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Sri Lankan Army Reinstates Official Suspected In Lasantha Murder And Other Attacks: Rights Groups Condemn

The Committee to Protect Journalists today expressed alarm that a Sri Lankan military intelligence official–who, according to news reports and court documents, is linked to attacks on at least three journalists–was restored to active duty.

Army Commander Senanayake

Prabath Bulathwatte‘s reinstatement as a major was announced on May 11 by Army Chief Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake in an interview with news broadcaster Ada Derana.

In 2017, authorities arrested five military intelligence officers in relation to the 2008 abduction and assault of columnist Keith Noyahr, CPJ reported at the time. Maj. Bulathwatte was among the suspects, according to the Centre for Policy Alternatives, an independent think tank in the capital, Colombo. During the investigation, police found evidence linking the men to the 2009 murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, according to news reports.

Ahimsa Wickrematunge, Lasantha’s daughter, filed a civil case in April in U.S. court against former Sri Lankan Defense Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, alleging that Rajapaksa operated a clandestine military intelligence unit known as the “Tripoli Platoon” that was responsible for her father’s assassination as well was attacks on Noyahr and Rivira weekly editor Upali Tennakoon.

Bulathwatte was the leader of that platoon, according to news reports citing police investigations. He was released on bail from the Noyahr investigation, according to Colombo-based newspaper Daily FT. No charges against Bulathwatte have been disclosed.

“Promoting to active duty an intelligence officer who has been implicated in the killing of one journalist and the torture of two others severely undermines Sri Lanka’s claim that it is fighting impunity for crimes against journalists,” said CPJ Asia Program Coordinator Steven Butler in Taipei. “Instead, the move creates new threats to journalists in Sri Lanka, who are not safe to do their jobs.”

CPJ’s emailed requests for comment to the Sri Lanka army did not receive a response. CPJ reached out to the army, local civil society groups, and journalists in Sri Lanka in an attempt to obtain contact information for Bulathwatte, but was unable to contact him. Rajapaksa did not respond to a CPJ message in April seeking comment on the U.S. lawsuit.

In his televised interview, Senanayake said that Bulathwatte had been aware of one of the suspects in last month’s bombings in Sri Lanka, which killed more than 253 people, and that sidelining the major had resulted in intelligence setbacks, according to Daily FT. Senanayake said that Bulathwatte had been placed on a special team that functions directly under him, according to the paper.

Emergency regulations remain in place in Sri Lanka after the deadly Easter bombings. On May 13, Sri Lankan internet providers blocked Facebook, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Viber, YouTube, and Snapchat for the third time this month, according to international digital rights group NetBlocks and news reports. Twitter was blocked on May 13 for the first time, according to NetBlocks.CPJ has reported how these blocks limit journalists’ ability to do their jobs safely and securely.

Meanwhile Sri Lanka working Journalists Association has also strongly condemned the decision taken to restore Major Prabhath Bulathwatte. We publish below the statement in full:
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Latest comments

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    1

    My biggest concern is not Bulathwatte coming out of the shadows to take over intelligence seeking, when a plain letter full of the perpetrators names and details, from the 21/4 suicide bombing, sent by the RAW was flapping in the breeze on the desks of all the top officials and politicians of the country, crying out for attention!
    But the state of the mind and his respect for law and order of this so called Commander of the armed forces, Mr Mahesha Senanayake, (appropriately named) who could sit with a straight face and defend his choice of personnel to be heading his team of secret service, to protect the ordinary public of our country who pay his wages, from the hard earned exchange eked out by slaving in the Middle East!
    Does he not even have a PANG IN HIS HEART, that the man he had chosen as indispensable to provide safety to our people, is a SUSPECT in a brutal murder of a respected Citizen /Journalist of our country, and in any other part of the civilised world, this man would have been locked up for life, long ago and forgotten, or in some countries would have charred, a while back in an electric chair?

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