NEWSPERSONS in Colombo received a jolt on the morning of August 29 in the form of reports that Nadarajah Guruparan, a senior journalist, had disappeared under mysterious circumstances.
Guruparan, who was News Manager at Sooriyan FM Radio, is known to have strong views on the decades- old ethnic problem in the island-nation. He anchored a popular weekly programme that focussed mainly on human rights-related issues.
Witch-hunt of journalists in a conflict zone is considered an occupational hazard.
However, the manner in which Guruparan disappeared and re-appeared after spending about 23 hours in captivity shocked even the most battle-hardened journalists of Sri Lanka. His captors have not yet been identified.
Masked men reportedly picked up Guruparan at 4-30 a.m. somewhere close to his residence as he was driving to his office. Hours later the police discovered his abandoned vehicle. The engine was still running and Guruparan's official cell phone was lying inside the car. His personal mobile, which he was carrying, was switched off.
For the next 23 hours, it was a leather-hunt by the government, journalists and concerned citizens. Guruparan returned home in a three-wheeler, his captors providing the fare.
In a matter-of-fact statement on his disappearance, Guruparan said his captors drove him for an hour and confined him to a room at an unknown place. He was told that he was abducted for a `purpose' and would be released once it was served.
Thanking fellow journalists, political leaders, international organisations, the President of Sri Lanka, the police and the Army for his release, he pleaded that he did not wish to be quizzed any further as his family was worried about his safety. He has decided to resign his current job and explore the possibilities of migrating to the West.
At a news conference two days later, Sri Lanka's Information Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa said that on learning about the abduction of Guruparan President Mahinda Rajapaksa immediately called Inspector-General of Police Chandrasiri Fernando and asked him to ensure the journalist's release.
Asked what the government knew about the case, the Minister conceded that the authorities had so far made no headway in establishing the identity of the culprits. "The journalist is reluctant to talk. The police are proceeding with the investigations," he maintained.
The incident has shaken the journalistic community. Even before it could recover its composure, news came about the abduction of a non-journalist employee of another news organisation.
The woman surfaced as mysteriously as she disappeared. The authorities have no clue about the abductors and their motives.
The two cases have not only created panic but also triggered all kinds of speculations about the persons behind the kidnappings and their possible motives.
The situation turned so bizarre that on September 3 the Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order and the Media Centre for National Security deemed it necessary to issue a public statement condemning the mysterious abduction of journalists and media personnel in the country.The statement said:
"Two media personnel were mysteriously abducted and released during the recent past. It is believed that these actions could have been perpetrated by interested parties to discredit the government and to tarnish the image of the security forces and police. The security forces do not get involved in such activities, as harassment of media personnel is a blatant violation of human rights and threat to media freedom.
"The Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law & Order requests the general public to assist them in their investigations by providing any information that could help unearth the truth behind these mysterious abductions."
Sadly, the statement has not helped throw any light on the problem. At least five journalists, including a political analyst who had obtained classified information on the extra-judicial killings, have been killed this year.
In August Namathu Eelanadu newspaper's manager and a social activist, Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, 68, was murdered at his residence in Jaffna.B. MURALIDHAR REDDY