The Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association has strongly condemned the decision to restore an Army Intelligence official named as the main suspect behind the abduction and torture of journalist Keith Noyahr who is also linked to the murder of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge back into active service.
In a statement issued yesterday, the SLWJA refers to an interview with Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake, who claimed Major Prabath Bulathwatte, who has been named as the main suspect in the Noyahr abduction case, was back in active duty in a special unity functioning directly under the commander.
Major Bulathwatte was taken into custody over Noyahr’s abduction in 2017 and later bailed out, the statement said.
“We believe that his reinstatement as an active Intelligence officer will spark fears about ongoing investigations relating to crimes against journalists and media institutions,” the SLWJA statement noted. The association added that it was also concerned that the reinstatement would result in increased risk of threats to officers, witnesses and their families who are supporting and conducting the investigations into these attacks on media personnel.
“The SLWJA expects that the President and the Government will take necessary steps to correct this mistake,” the statement said.
In a televised interview last Saturday, Army Chief Lt. Gen. Senanayake admitted that Bulathwatte had been reinstated. The officer had been side-lined and out of operational service after he was arrested in connection with the abduction and assault of Keith Noyahr in February 2017. He is currently out on bail.
As an officer attached to the Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), Major Bulathwatte led the Tripoli Military Intelligence platoon based in Slave Island. Painstaking investigations by the CID had found this unit was specifically tasked with the surveillance of journalists and initially operated out of Jaffna before being moved to Maradana.
The Tripoli platoon that Major Bulathwatte led has been implicated in a string of attacks against journalists, including the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge, the abduction and assault on journalist Keith Noyahr, the attack on Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon, and journalist Namal Perera.