All things considered, former Editor of The Nation, Keith Noyahr was one of the lucky few. Abducted and tortured in May 2008 during a time when dissenting journalists were hunted with impunity, at least he made it out alive. Murdered editor of The Sunday Leader Lasantha Wickrematunge and Journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda who disappeared without a trace in 2010 and remains missing to this day, were much less fortunate. But the common factor that binds these deaths, disappearances and assaults together according to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the Police is the connection of the country’s Military Intelligence to each of the cases. The assault on former Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon and the abduction of journalist and activist Poddala Jayantha are also linked to the same shadowy military intelligence networks, run at the time by the country’s powerful former Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
Last week’s CID breakthrough in the Keith Noyahr abduction case highlights this nexus between the Rajapaksa regime’s crackdown on dissent and the military intelligence networks.
Former Military Intelligence Director and Chief of Staff of the Army, Major General (Retired) Amal Karunasekara was arrested in connection to the Noyahr abduction on April 6, 10 years after the event took place. The arrest which was delayed several times happened on April 5, when Karunasekara was arrested at the Army Hospital for aiding and abetting the abduction of Keith Noyahr. But a question that remained on the minds of many was how this generally well-liked and respected military officer was connected to such a brutal crime.
According to the evidence produced by the CID to the Courts in the form of phone use analysis reports, it was revealed that following a call placed by the Former Editor of The Nation newspaper, Lalith Allahakkoon to the Former Secretary of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa on May 22, 2008 to inform him of Noyahr’s abduction, Rajapaksa at 11.36 pm in turn makes a call to the then Inspector General of Police Jayantha Wickramaratne who has also been linked to the incident surrounding the death of Wickrematunge by the CID. According to the CID the Defence Secretary was also found to have called Former Intelligence Chief Retired Major General Kapila Hendawitharana at 11.39 pm on the very day.
CID says according to evidence gathered, a call from Hendawitharana at 11.41 pm was traced to the mobile provided by the Sri Lanka Army to Military Intelligence Director, the then Brigadier Amal Karunasekara. Karunasekara then calls the Military Intelligence Unit at the Tripoli Camp in Colombo.
The location services revealed that at the time the number belonging to Karunasekara was in the Jawatte area while the mobile number he calls belonging to the Tripoli Camp was in Malwana. Yet another call was also traced originating from Karunasekara’s phone to Commanding Officer of the Tripoli Camp intelligence unit, Major Bulathwatta at 11.48 pm on the day. Interestingly as the CID points out the phone location indicates he too was in the Malwana area at the time, where other phone records confirmed, was the location where Noyahr was being held. “It was only after this call that Noyahr was released” a CID officer working on the case told the Sunday Observer, asking not to be named, adding that this proof cannot be refuted.
Despite his link to the case however, the arrest of Karunasekara was a long time coming. In fact, even on the day of the arrest, sources say prior to it he had admitted himself to the Army Hospital in order to further delay his arrest, while several weeks ago he had sought court permission to travel abroad.
Major General Karunasekara, currently the Commandant at Defence Services Command and Staff College, on March 29 had requested that the court lifts the ban placed preventing him so that he may travel to New Delhi on an observation visit of a Defence College. He had also claimed that as a result he would not be able to present himself at a CID on April 5.
Amal Karunasekara was in fact to be arrested around the first week of January 2017, but sources say this was prevented at the time, as he was the Acting Army Commander then.
Courts, at the request of the CID imposed a travel ban on him on February 7 and he was to be arrested on February 12. The CID says, this was once again prevented as he was placed in crucial service following the concluded local government elections.
However, despite the delay, CID sources say, the elite sleuth unit consider the eventual arrest as a major breakthrough for the case. “The future of this investigation will depend on Karunasekara’s statement to the CID” an officer said adding that however, the evidence presented cannot be denied by him. While the CID will seek an order from court to take a statement from the arrested Major General soon, the officer said, this will depend on his medical reports.
Following the arrest of Karunasekara the CID appears to be now closing in on Former Intelligence Chief Retired Major General Kapila Hendawitharana, who according to them is the next link in the case. While a statement has been obtained from him previously, if implicated by Karunasekara, he too could be arrested in the near future, top CID sources told the Sunday Observer.
But while the CID appears to have nabbed suspects involved in all related cases at the ground level the question remains as to who at senior levels of the Rajapaksa administration ordered these crimes to be perpetrated and to what end.