I feel it would have been better if they had killed me rather than subject me to that inhuman degrading torture. To go back to that time is to re-live every painful moment. The day I was abducted and tortured is seared in my memory. Branded upon my soul. The words of my abductors lash out at me, I heard them then, I hear them now as I write this article.
“If in the future you speak against the government and make anti government statements to the media, if you engage in picketing after this, we will hunt you down and kill you like a dog. You are a headache to us too. So shut up and stay down like a dog, if you open your mouth again we will have to send you to the mortuary.
They had tied my legs and hands, blindfolded me tightly with strips of cloth and also bound my mouth. I cannot bring myself to detail the inhuman treatment and torture meted out to me as my abductors did this. I’m a man known for my beard it is my signature look. My abductors cut off my beard and stuffed much of my facial hair into my mouth and down my throat. They then flung me into the back of a vehicle face down and kept on repeating the threats I described above.
A few minutes later I was flung out of the moving vehicle on to the side of a road and I heard the sound of a revved engine as the abductors sped away.
I rolled around to break free and kept rubbing the strips of cloth over my mouth on the gravel and finally I was able to break free of them. But I was still blind-folded. Every time I heard a vehicle I screamed for help but they just kept moving along. Finally some three wheelers stopped and the drivers of these three wheelers (tuk tuks) asked me curiously, ‘who are you?’ ‘Why is this, what has happened to you?’
‘I’m a journalist, my name is Poddala Jayantha, I said. I was abducted and beaten and then they left me here, please could some one take me to a hospital,” I pleaded.
Even though the crowd that had now gathered were keenly asking me many questions it did not look as if anyone would come forward to release me from my misery or untie the strips of cloth that bound my hands and legs.
But a minute later one of the three-wheeler drivers present said, ‘Oh this is that reporter who appears on TV.” Immediately with that recognition I felt the tense vibe around me change.
“Brother, what happened here? He asked in a concerned voice. I heard another tuk tuk driver call the police on his mobile.
Another person tried to loose my bonds but his friend advised him against it. ‘Don’t do that,’ he said. ‘We may get into trouble, just wait till the police arrives.’
Now the crowd surrounding me had grown to great proportions but not one in that crowd came forward to take me to hospital.My pain was unbearable by this time. ‘ Please,’ I asked anybody who would listen, I will even worship you, please take me to a hospital.’ I have a child, don’t let me die here on the road. Please, please, I begged of that voyeuristic crowd so quick to gather to watch my distress yet so morally paralysed by the culture of impunity that pervades the country, they were unwilling to act. Unwilling to stick their necks out to help a fellow human being lest they too be swept into this tornado of hate and violence.
However after more pleading, a few of the people around me helped untie me and also took away the tight blindfold. Another one observed, “if we wait for the police to come, this fellow will die here in front of us, the police will not come, let us just tell the police anything but we will take this man to hospital”.
I then came over with a severe cough. This was because the facial hair was now stuck in my throat and mouth. The man who had intrepidly spoken of taking me to hospital despite what the police might say, then put me in his tuk tuk and sped to the Colombo National Hospital.
June 1, 2009 was just another day at the office. I worked for the Lake House Group of newspapers, which is state owned. After work I took bus number 138 to Nugegoda and then changed to bus number 119 and arrived in Ambuldeniya. Before proceeding to my home I stopped at a wayside boutique to buy two vegetable roti for my wife and young daughter, and walked towards Mahawatte Road that would take me to my home. I turned into Mahawatta Road and had gone only a few yards when I saw a White van (the white van had become a symbol of untold dread as it prowled around Colombo abducting dissident journalists and activists) parked on a side of this narrow lane. There was now only room for one person to walk, passing this parked vehicle. As I walked forward through the narrow space and passed the White van, the sliding door of the van suddenly opened and I was violently pulled inside by some thugs. I had not noticed until then that two persons had also been following me on foot. They too now pushed me from behind into the van. They then got into the van to join their colleagues in crime.
I recall seeing only a backseat in the van before I was pushed face down on the floor and my hands and feet bound tightly. I was also blindfolded. All this happened while the van was being driven very fast. When they were tying my legs together I screamed loudly, and they ridiculed me saying’ You shout as loud as you like, no one will hear you outside. And of course you are quite used to shouting loudly during all your picketing aren’t you?
They then beat me on my legs with poles and the sheer pain of it made me scream again loudly. This prompted them to quickly bind my mouth with strips of cloth as well.
I then heard one person in the van rebuke one of my tormentors, “He is not going to be broken by that, man, here, put his leg on top of this and then hit him.” I felt my leg being put over something like a wooden log and I felt a searing pain as the pole came down swift and hard on my leg even as I lost consciousness.
What happened after that I recall as if in a dream. I felt my beard being cut and then the cloth over my mouth loosened and the clumps of thick hair being poked into my mouth. The cloth was then re-tightened around my mouth.
I remember them starting to work on my other leg and beating both limbs with poles.
Suddenly I felt my leg being burnt and the pain of it brought me back into consciousness. “Can you hear what we are saying….remember this well…. If in the future…..”
I also felt some cold liquid being poured over my body. I thought they were pouring petrol on me in order to set me on fire, but that did not happen.
I was admitted to the Accident Ward of the Colombo National Hospital at about 7.30pm. A team of some 6 or 7 doctors painstakingly cleared my throat and mouth of all the hair and first concentrated on clearing the air passage. My left leg had been broken in two and steel rods had to be inserted to join the pieces together. No bones had broken on my right leg though there were severe contusions and therefore it had to be fully bandaged.
Since I had been mercilessly beaten all over and also on my lower stomach my urinary tract was not working properly and a catheter had to be inserted for me to pass urine. Altogether I was in the Accident Ward for 29 days and was on crutches for another 6 months.
About two months after I came home from hospital I was able to restart my work for the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association (SLWJA) and on October 10, also able to open its new office building that had been under construction for some time. Except for those from Lake House, the editors of almost all the newspapers attended the opening ceremony and the next morning the front pages of the Island , Lakbima, Divayina, Lankadeepa, Daily Mirror, carried banner headlines about this with a picture of myself.
This proved to be lethal publicity. The next day again I received death threats over the phone but the number was hidden and unidentifiable.
“So you started work again did you. We told you to stay down like a dog did we not? Wait and see what we do to you.” The voice threatened.
A few days after this the editor of the Lanka newspaper Chandana Sirimalwatta was abducted and it was later announced that he was taken into custody by the CID. This fact only went to prove that the abduction was carried out by the State. Without any hesitation as a human rights activist I vociferously spoke out against this abduction, and it was not long after that I again started receiving death threats.
This was certainly taking a toll on my family life but I was determined to move forward and to fight for freedom in my country. The decision to walk away is always the hardest to make whatever the circumstances. It is so with all the journalists now forced into exile because of threats to their lives and liberty from the Mahinda Rajapakse repressive regime.
Meanwhile I had still not recovered fully from my injuries and would have to travel for treatment from Kahathuduwa, Piliyandala to the Colombo National Hospital . A commute I felt would be fraught with danger and the possibility of murder or a worse torture than I what I had been subjected to before. I could not live with my conscience if I stayed silent while the regime trampled on the rights of journalists. The only way to survive the Rajapakse regime was to sell your soul to them, to sacrifice at the alter of the Rajapakse Temple your life, your dignity and your principles.
I took my wife and child and left the country of my birth.
To be continued
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