Failed Attempt To Compromise Investigative Journalism
As I casually glanced to my right soon after 11:30 pm on the 15th of February, I got the biggest jolt of my life thus far. I am not entirely sure and there is no need to have a reason for the glancing after all I was within the sanctity and freedom of my home and in my bedroom. I could be as I was and how I was without fear. That’s the whole essence of ‘a home is his castle’ and all that. So I thought.
The shock and fear that reverberated throughout my body with the sight of the armed man in my bedroom with two accomplices is a feeling I will have great difficulty in describing. Suffice it to say that it was an all encompassing fear which I can frankly say has never ever consumed me before.
The cold, haunting and menacing eyes of the gunman, with his 9mm pistol covering me and with his left arm holding on to his right arm in which the pistol was held, is a sight that is etched like a high-definition picture in my head. Rather well dressed – perhaps he dressed up to kill me – with a tan-coloured pair of jeans which were fitted, a largely red and ash and black striped T-shirt he and his two-member crew, somehow entered my room without attracting any attention. I had been on the phone with a colleague who was clarifying part of my copy last week on Tricky Lalith and his wife Cecille who must have more air miles than GK Pieris does, what with her flitting about in the jet set areas of the world like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and of course London.
Since I could not quite recall the part that my colleague wanted clarified I decided to look at it on my screen. That was when the gunman and his imbeciles entered my room.
They invaded the sanctity of my room which had been renovated at some considerable cost only weeks earlier and was not quite completed. Having lived in the United Kingdom for much of my life I cherish freedom as a fish must do water. Coming from a family where my mother never opened our mail and where we ourselves do not open mail addressed to our kids, it was reprehensible that this trio had entered my home without being asked and to add to the gall of the whole episode were now inside my bedroom. Now I can say bloody cheek. Then it was pure, unadulterated fear.
I knew that they – whoever ‘they’ are – had come to get me. In 2009 when I wrote extensively and some say incisively on the Hedging transactions, on the full impact of CJ Sarath Silva’s orders to return the Sri Lanka Insurance Corporation ownership to the state and other public interest matters, I had got hooked on the entire notion of Article 28(d) of the Sri Lanka Constitution. Public interest championing was very much a real attraction to me. I gave it my all. And my sources were as eager to help me as indeed I was ready to accept the information and act upon it.
The gunman and his men, made no sound, just stared. The gunman himself appeared to be a druggie and must have been on heroin or some such substance. His eyes gave it away. The look suggested that everything I had read up on the subject for my reporting on drug mis-use at Welikada Prison was right.
As I stood up I was happy that my colleague was on the phone. This time we media guys were going to get our own back. We would get the perpetrators. I asked them clearly, “Mokada”, Kowda” and “Mokatha ownay” – “What”, “Who are you” and “What do you want”. It was to no avail. The gunman kept creeping up towards me all the time covering me with his weapon. He seemed very clinical and set in what he was there to do. My colleague in my mind was still on the line.
My housekeeper of long service, Gopie, had already retired for the night having dutifully switched off the lights in the stairwell. My pet hate – incandescent lighting – and possibly the only thing I could agree with former Minister of Power and Energy, Patali Champika Ranawaka, the stairwell had ‘ordinary’ high-consuming lights as opposed to elsewhere which had CFL I had asked Gopi to turn the lights off on his way down to his quarters, and switched on lights upstairs for the benefit of some house guests who were in bed by now.
I started screaming as loud as I can. In fact I screamed so loud that I wonder if my vocal chords got more affected by my screams rather than by the trauma caused by a bullet entering my neck embarrassingly close to the larynx. I knew my colleague was on the line, she was after all, patiently as usual, waiting for my clarification on Tricky Lalith. Or so I thought.
“Gopie!, Gopie! May enda, may enda” I screamed. But Gopie never turned up. I found out later that he was busy turning the dogs loose and trying to alert other guests downstairs to some problem upstairs.
The gunman kept coming towards me. He put his left hand palm on my face and was trying to shut me up. That was the catalyst I needed if ever there was one required. I shoved the gunman aside and made a beeline towards the door across the room. I did not get too far. Number 2 – a tall dark youth who was around 6 foot tall, dressed in blue jeans, a turquoise t-shirt which seemed newish, black rubber flip flops, the t-shirt with a prominent logo on the left side, grabbed me from behind and we grappled and ended up again towards the window but they got a hand over my mouth and my neck and dragged me away from the window and said “don’t shout, nothing will happen”.
Just for a split second I stopped screaming. But there was nothing they said except to make a reference to the work I did and a subject that I had written on. Now I knew it. My fear was not unexpected. They were here because of my work. I struggled with the two and suddenly found myself on the floor still trying to shout and get away from these crazed goons.
I was on the floor, the gunman had fallen on my bed – I will need a new mattress for certain now – and the gun was pointed in my face. I pleaded. I have a daughter. I have a son. I have a wife. What do you want? The wallet is over there. I said pointing at the wallet on the edge of the bed. Do you want the car? The car key was next to the wallet. Do you want anything else? My cupboard is behind, I indicated.
All the time these goons, drugged, clearly paid by some perverted, twisted moron who had taken issue with what had been published and who clearly had no respect for the law and the judicial channels available to take the newspaper and author to court and who most probably acted like saints during the day, including wearing white and swanning around showcasing their ecclesiastical interests and delights and expounding too on them, who possibly harboured real racist sentiment, kept attempting to kill me.
They got hold of my pillow and tried to suffocate me. They got hold of my neck and were trying to throttle me. They put their grubby fingers on my face and tried to poke my eyes. They broke my glasses which cost me Rs 22,500 to replace. They placed their grubby palms over my mouth and pressed so hard that the inside of my lips were bruised for over 4 days. In short they gave it their best to inflict pain on me.
I pleaded. The gunman gave me the impression he was considering what I had said. But he then uttered the words, which makes me believe that he was not a member of the human race. “Gahala Daamu”. (Let him have it or let’s finish it off) As he uttered those words, I instinctively moved my head to the right.
There was a huge sound. I was surprised. There was another sound which I heard. It was not loud and intense as the first blast. It was a mere pip squeak of a sound. It went like, “plop”. Then it started. A shower of blood. It sprayed me. It covered my boxers. It sprayed the moron who shot me. I got up. I reached for the door to run away from this nightmare. I was dying I speculated. I must call my wife. My kids. I had to call. Instead of letting me – the victim – run, the cowardly trio shoved me aside and ran ahead of me. I walked briskly towards the door.
I put the double lock on. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps some psychologist can explain why we bolt the door after the horse has run. Except these were not horses they were morons. I will never forget their faces. I will remember them every time I think of an expose. Every time I think of my daughter. My son. My wife. My friends. Oh yes I will. And whenever I think of the magnanimous Australians who helped me. Who drove me inside 6 minutes to the Kalubowila Hospital and whenever I think of the National Hospital Accident ICU staff that saved me who treated me so absolutely splendidly. I will remember these morons. And as I travel to Kataragama next week I will remember them in my complaint to Lord Kataragama. I will ask for justice. And even if those morons do not get justice from the judicial system in this funny democracy that we live in within Sri Lanka, I know that ecclesiastic justice has not been compromised. They will get their uppance.
As for those that dreamt up this attack in the hope that past articles will not be repeated in the future. Well they can dare to think again. The Sunday Leader consists of people who are committed to being unbowed and unafraid. We had a founder Editor who lived by that rule every working day, every moment he was awake. No, this attack has only been the impetus to perform better. To seek out the corruption that is a cancer in this country. To lobby the conscience of this country. As long as I have a publisher willing and able to do so, we will continue to lobby the conscience of Sri Lanka. There can be no other way.
RSF condemns attack
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and its partner organization, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, condemned the attempt to murder The Sunday Leader journalist Faraz Shauketaly.
“This appalling shooting suggests that the enemies of media freedom are trying to silence those journalists who still dare to report the news freely,” Reporters Without Borders and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka said.
“Even if a thorough investigation is needed to determine the motive with certainty, there are already many indications that this attack was a reprisal for Shaukatally’s journalistic activities, especially as he had been threatened shortly after writing articles about government corruption and private sector embezzlement.
“We urge the authorities to react to this attack without delay and, in their investigation, to focus on the possibility that it was linked to his work, which seems the most likely motive at this stage. Shaukatally must also be given police protection at the hospital where he is being treated and after he leaves it, as well.”
This attack came just weeks after the third anniversary of cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda’s disappearance on 24 January 2010, the fourth anniversary of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga’s murder on 8th January 2009 and the fourth anniversary of an attempt on the lives of Rivira editor Upali Tennakoon and his wife, also in January 2009. Sri Lankan journalists are constantly the targets of threats and reprisals, often by the government, RSF said.
Sri Lanka is classified by Reporters Without Borders as a country “under surveillance” because of its violations of online freedom of expression and is ranked 162nd out of 179 countries in its 2013 press freedom index.
Pillay wants protection for Faraz
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay last week called on the government to provide protection for The Sunday Leader journalist Faraz Shauketaly.
“I’m deeply disturbed by this particular shooting because it’s a journalist and he’s attached to a newspaper that’s known to be critical of the government – particularly on accountability and injustice issues – which are issues that I cover. And I will be reporting to the Human Rights Council my concern over extra judicial killings, abductions and this kind of treatment and suppression of freedom of expression,” Pillay told Channel 4 news.
Police said three men broke into his house and opened fire on him while he was in his bedroom. The journalist, whose family lives in Colywn Bay in Wales, was rushed to hospital with bullet wounds in his neck.
When asked about suggestions that the government could have been involved in the shooting, Pillay told Channel 4 News: “That’s why there has to be a proper investigation before we can conclude that. In the meantime it’s law enforcement that has to provide him protection. And it would demonstrate on the part of the government that they care if one of their citizens is fired upon. Everybody should care (about) who are the people who are going around shooting other people. This is what law enforcement is about”