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 Post subject: Keith Noyahr's nasty night
 Post Posted: Tue Jun 17, 2008 7:54 pm 
Keith Noyahr's nasty night

Keith Noyahr was the latest victim of the media witch-hunt which is apparently becoming a part of the government’s counter insurgency policy.The abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr, Associate Editor and defence columnist of The Nation newspaper only proves that critics of Sri Lanka’s human rights record are not entirely wrong. "In appealing for justice for Keith, we echo the same call for justice to be served to the hundreds and thousands of abductees all over Sri Lanka. We pray that this culture of impunity will be arrested forthwith - already too many have paid the highest price to satisfy the whims of a few.”


By Ranga Jayasuriya
LBN /25May2008


The abduction and torture of Keith Noyahr, Associate Editor and defence columnist of The Nation newspaper only proves that critics of Sri Lanka’s human rights record are not entirely wrong. The fact remains that Sri Lanka has a genuine human rights problem. Worse still, as the gruesome drama of Thursday night indicates that this sorry human rights situation is further aggravated by the arrogance of the military top brass and indifference of their political bosses.

Keith Noyahr was the latest victim of the media witch-hunt which is apparently becoming a part of the government’s counter insurgency policy.

Keith left for home after having dinner with a few friends at 10.30 pm on Thursday, but he could not make it home. He was abducted by a group of unidentified men when he got off the vehicle to open the gate. His vehicle was found in front of his house, its lights on and engine running.

Rare entity

He was released at 4.30 am on Friday, badly beaten up by his captors, who were, to be fair by them, doing a job of work on the orders of their superiors. He sustained head injuries and now is being treated at the Colombo National Hospital.

In a country where, defence correspondents have a tendency to parrot the military spokesman and service commanders, Keith is a rare entity, who stands his ground. For the same reason, the top echelon of the defence establishment seemingly held a grudge against him.

When others toe our line, why can’t this chap? They would have thought.
The answer is that he is one of the few remaining defence correspondents who is discerning enough to see beyond the content of the government’s press communiques. He is one among a few who believe that parroting the top brass of the military is not patriotism, but subservience.
It is also becoming obvious that the country’s counter insurgency is gradually turning into a dirty war and its victims are left with no recourse. The media has long been a victim and has been under continuous attack from the defence establishment which is increasingly deploying hate speech against media personnel who refuse to toe the official government line.

According to the Paris based media watchdog, Reporters Sans Frontier (RSF), Sri Lanka is the fourth most dangerous country in the world for journalists. Three journalists have been killed in Sri Lanka during year 2007, according to the RSF.

Sri Lanka also has the dubious reputation to be ranked high in the journalist murder impunity index. Sri Lanka is among 13 countries where killers of journalists are at large.

Though the tendency of the government is to label these reports as part of a greater conspiracy against this island nation, the sordid truth is that the situation is further aggravated as new predators buoyed up by the indifference of the government, join the fray.

The Defence Ministry website reported about an “alleged assault” and absolved the defence establishment from responsibility. The controversial NGO, Free Media Movement was quick to speculate a connection between the incident and a defence establishment by stating that “ there is no other reason for the attack other than the victim being critical over the war and high ranking military officials. However, defence.lk learns that no evidence has been found so far to prove such a tendentious allegation.”

With impunity

But, suffice to say that it is a public secret in journalist circles as to who was behind the assault and what prompted it. And the sordid truth in Sri Lanka’s recent slide to a humanitarian basket case is that perpetrators of rights abuses act with impunity.

In a country, where all murders of journalists committed in recent years remain unresolved, it is naive to expect the attackers of Keith to be brought to justice.

Equally understandable is the prevailing fear psychosis that compels the victims to reconcile with their torturers for the sake of life. Thinakural journalist Pala Mohan who suffered severe burns due to an acid attack by unknown attackers fled for asylum in Switzerland. The news editor of Suriyan FM, Nadarajah Guruparan was another abduction victim who was later released after lobbying by his media colleagues.

Perpetrators of all these crimes are still at large and none of the victims sought legal action fearing reprisals.

Keith was at least lucky to return alive - but, Keith’s narrow escape could have been due to the strong lobbying for his safe return by his media colleagues and media associations. When Keith did not return home, his wife lodged a complaint with the Dehiwela police. His media colleagues contacted every available political leaderincluding President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the dead of night to secure his safe return.

Without these telephone calls, the story would have been different. And the records of recent history justify these fears. Tamilnet editor Sivaram and freelance journalist Sampath Lakmal did not have the liberty to walk away free from their captors.

RMC expresses outrage over Keith’s abduction

In a press release issued by the Chief Executive Officer of the Rivira Media Corporation, stated “The Management and Staff of Rivira Media Corporation (RMC). stood shell shocked and outraged on Thursday night (May 22) upon receiving the news that Associate Editor of The Nation and one of the paper’s most senior journalists, Keith Noyahr, had been abducted outside his residence at around 10 p.m.”

It further stated “Keith, who was returning home after dinner, was abducted at the entrance of his house, presumably when he got off his vehicle to open his garage gate. His wife was to find his car, minutes later, still parked outside, its engine running and headlights still on.
His abduction followed a series of threats issued against him, and, according to Keith’s close associates, seemingly because of his regular contributions to The Nation’s weekly defence column published under the nom-de-plume Senpathi. After what seemed liked an endless vigil for Keith’s family and friends, he was ‘released,’ but not before being brutally assaulted by his abductors.

I am joined by Keith’s colleagues both at The Nation and Rivira and the wider media community, who have recognised both his valour and unprejudiced journalism, and therefore view this attack against him as a despicable act aimed at silencing a pen committed to the truth above all else.

We live in a nation where terrorism is a word much bandied about. Terrorism is words, ideologies and individuals; terrorism is also a convenient label, a weapon to be used against political detractor and dissident. But terrorism by definition rises beyond individual and organisation.

The perpetrator notwithstanding, terrorism is principally an act. This is why, we at Rivira Media Corporation, stand convinced that what happened to Keith in those hours between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. on Thursday night was terrorism, in its rawest, most savage form.

Keith is a journalist by profession, but he is first and foremost a family man. On Thursday night, his abductors rendered his two small children hysterical with grief and fear that they might never see their father again, presumably because they disagreed with what he wrote.

Keith remains at the Colombo National Hospital, receiving treatment for injuries sustained, the extent of which is not yet fully known. Journalistic principle aside, it was a heavy price to pay for writing an article.
Despite all evidence pointing to the contrary, we, at Rivira Media Corporation, remain hopeful that the authorities will seek to bring the perpetrators of this heinous act of terrorism to book. We recognise that while a strong campaign to bring Keith’s abductors to justice is being waged, there are thousands in the very same plight, without voice and without hope.

In appealing for justice for Keith, we echo the same call for justice to be served to the hundreds and thousands of abductees all over Sri Lanka. We pray that this culture of impunity will be arrested forthwith - already too many have paid the highest price to satisfy the whims of a few.”


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