By Rasika Jayakody –
When I heard the news of retired Senior DIG Anura Senanayake’s death, my memories took me back to a fateful night at the Dehiwala police station in May 2008.
On that night, journalist Keith Noyahr, the then Deputy Editor of the now defunct ‘The Nation’ newspaper, was abducted and brutally tortured by a “hit squad”.
When the abduction took place, at around 10 PM near the entrance of Noyahr’s Dehiwala residence, I was the only one in the editorial at ‘Rivira’ attending to some last-minute work. In fact, I had met Keith at the office, just hours earlier. I remember the call that came to the editorial office, with the message, “Keith has been kidnapped. No one knows details.”
I put the phone down and rushed to the Dehiwala police station in desperation to find out what happened to our colleague. Several other journalists who worked with us — Munza Mushtaq, Dharisha Bastians and Wasantha Siriwardena — also joined and we inquired of the police officers as what they knew about how our friend had gone “missing” at the doorstep to his own residence.
No officer was able to give us a convincing answer. Soon, we were joined by the former CEO of the Rivira newspaper group Krishantha Cooray and the former Editor of ‘The Nation’ newspaper Lalith Allahakkoon — with whom Noyahr had dinner nearly a half an hour before the abduction. We were asked frivolous questions by the police officers, such as whether we suspected anyone for the abduction or whether the journalist had any “personal enemies”. As the journalists kept pressing the police officers for answers, the atmosphere became heated and intense.
It was at this point that Senior DIG Anura Senanayake — one of the most influential police officers at the time — visited the Dehiwala police station. His behaviour was abrasive and arrogant. In the heat of the moment, an argument broke out between Cooray and Senanayake, after Senanayake asked if the missing journalist had “a girlfriend”, suggesting the abduction might have been due to an extramarital affair. Noyahr is a deeply religious man with an unwavering commitment to his wife and children.
In the end, an angry Senanayake asked whether we knew who abducted the journalist, to which Cooray responded curtly, pointing out he should ask the question from the President, the Defence Secretary and the Army Commander.
As there was no proactive response from the police, Cooray spoke to some of his friends in the telecommunications industry and attempted to locate Nohayr through his mobile phone via transmission towers. All of us who were gathered at the Dehiwala police station kept on sending him text messages, assuming his abductors would switch on his mobile phone at some point, and the messages would be delivered.
In the meantime, Cooray spoke to Karu Jayasuriya, a minister of the Rajapaksa government at the time, and requested him to intervene in securing the release of Noyahr. We later learned that Jayasuriya had spoken to President Mahinda Rajapaksa regarding the issue and the President had then contacted Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Around 1 AM, we learned that Noyahr’s phone was located somewhere close to Malwana and Delgoda. Since we didn’t have much faith in the “police investigations” led by Anura Senanayake, we got into our own vehicles and set out in search of our friend. In Wasantha Siriwardena’s vehicle, Ishara Kodikara and I went to Delgoda, while the other journalists did the same. On the way, we talked to each other and informed each other of our whereabouts in order to stay safe. The government soon realised this abduction was becoming a serious issue as a result of this concerted effort by the journalistic fraternity.
Then we received a telephone call at around 4 AM saying that Noyahr had been severely beaten, tortured and brought to Dehiwala. We immediately turned around and rushed back to Colombo. When we arrived in Colombo, we were told he had been taken to the National Hospital. Noyahr was in such a state of shock he could not even speak.
My next interaction with Anura Senanayake was in the immediate aftermath of the brutal attack on Upali Tennakoon, another senior journalist and the Editor-in-Chief of the Rivira newspaper. I was personally involved in ensuring the safety of Tennakoon after the assault, as he is a relative, and he lived in our house right until he left the country after the incident. I remember Senanayake visiting our house to meet Tennakoon, where he made the false assumption that it was the same group that murdered Lasantha Wickrematunge that had attempted to kill Tennakoon, using the same weapons. He made it sound as if the same group of “goons” had tried to kill another journalist, in an attempt to hoodwink the investigators.
These two incidents happened long before the killing of rugby player Wasim Thajudeen in which Senanayake was implicated and prosecuted for concealing evidence.
Anura Senanayake’s life and death is a reminder that it is character and integrity that define the life of any professional and not the willingness to satisfy the wills of political masters at any cost. Insatiable desire for perks, privileges and ‘upward mobility’ at the expense of ethics and values leads one to commit unforgivable sins.
I wish his soul peace.