COLOMBO, Sri Lanka – The sight of a white van still haunts Poddala Jayantha, a Sri Lankan journalist exiled in the U.S.
Eight years after he was abducted in his home country, he says he saw only a pair of hands pulling him inside the vehicle where he was tortured for hours. He had broken bones in both his legs, fingers smashed, body burnt, beard and hair cut and stuffed inside his mouth. A group of tricycle taxi drivers found him dumped by the side of a deserted road and took him to a hospital.
The decades-long civil war has ended, but the suspects in Jayantha’s ordeal are still at large. On a visit back to Sri Lanka, Jayantha is now pressing his case for justice but it’s far from clear he’ll be getting it anytime soon.
Jayantha, 52, was the president of the Working Journalists’ Association of Sri Lanka, the largest media organization in the country, and spoke against suppression of the media and organized protests at a time when doing so was considered dangerous. Government forces were closing in on Tamil Tiger rebels who sought to carve out their own state for minority Tamils; advocating accountability, transparency and human rights meant taking a personal risk.
Jayantha doesn’t know who snatched him. But he said he had angered Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, one of the most powerful officials in his brother’s administration with the title of secretary to the minister of defense, by arguing against Rajapaksa’s criticism of the media. Jayantha said he was openly warned of dire consequences of challenging such a formidable…