With Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka joining the United National Front, questions have resurfaced about his involvement in attacks on media persons, including alleged abductions and killings of journalists, and whether justice will be meted out.
Keith Noyahr, the then Associate Editor of ‘The Nation’ newspaper, was abducted and severely beaten up immediately after he wrote an article titled ‘An army is not its commander’s private fiefdom.’ It is alleged that Fonseka was directly involved in the abduction.
According to a leaked US diplomatic cable dated June 2, 2008, Ambassador Robert Blake wrote: “ The Defense Secretary summoned two media workers from the government-owned publishing house. He reportedly harangued them for over two hours for participating in a rally to protest the abduction and beating of defense journalist Keith Noyahr. The journalists told us that Gotabaya told them that ‘groups that revere Army Commander Fonseka’ would kill them if they persisted in their campaign for media freedom.”
“Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that as Lake House employees, they were government servants who had no rights to take part in protests. Further, he said that criticism of the military leadership, particularly Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, and the conduct of the war would not be tolerated. He told the media workers that there were large numbers of military personnel who ‘revered Fonseka like a God,’ and that he could not control these people.” the US Embassy Colombo informed Washington.
In this context, several media rights activists and organizations are pointing out that the credibility of the new regime has been compromised with respect to the commitment to restore law and order and more importantly guarantees given to the UN about investigating allegations of wrongdoing by the military during the last stages of the war.
A former Convener of the Free Media Movement (FMM) told Colombo Telegraph “This Government is yet to launch an investigation into the attack on Noyahr and we fear that there would be none with Fonseka joining the ranks of the Government.”
“He was one of the most prominent persons in the chain of command during the time that many media persons were abducted, attacked and killed. There were dozens of Tamil journalists and media workers working in the North and East who were killed while Fonseka was the Commander. It is understandable that the Rajapaksas did not investigate these killings because they were in power at the time and part of the Chain of Command. However, this Government does not have such obstacles and moreover it was expected that sooner or later investigations would be launched. Fonseka’s entry might put an end to all that,” he said.
With regard to the murder of Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, Lal, the brother of the slain editor reportedly said that Mahinda Rajapaksa had informed him that it was Fonseka who killed Lasantha. However, neither Rajapaksa or Fonseka have been questioned to verify the truth of this statement. It is however noteworthy to mention that both Lal and Wickrematunge’s wife, Sonali have been given diplomatic postings by the current administration.