Sri Lanka police query ex-president over abducted journalist

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka (AP) — Police in Sri Lanka questioned the former president on Friday as part of an investigation into the abduction of a journalist during the country's civil war 10 years ago.

Former strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa was questioned at his home about journalist Keith Noyahr, who was abducted as he was going home from work in 2008. He was released after several hours of torture.

Noyahr was an associate editor of The Nation newspaper and wrote critical stories about the civil war. After being released he fled with his family to Australia, saying he feared for his life.

Rajapaksa told reporters that police asked him about Noyahr's release after former minister Karu Jayasuriya and the then editor of The Nation, Lalith Alahakoon, made phone calls seeking Rajapaksa's intervention. Rajapaksa's government is accused of using paramilitary groups to abduct, assault and kill scores of journalists during his 2005-2015 rule.

This is the first time Rajapaksa has been questioned in relation to the intimidation and attacks on journalists that took place during his presidency. The purpose of Friday's questioning was to determine if he had any connection to the abductors and was in a position to give them orders.

"I don't remember anyone calling me but I asked them what's wrong with someone walking free," Rajapaksa said of the police questioning.

"This is only part of a political conspiracy," he added.

Investigations into attacks on journalists began after Rajapaksa lost the 2015 presidential election.