Photo courtesy JDS

An Open Letter to Minister Keheliya Rambukwella

Mr. Minister, I don’t know whether you have seen the film called ‘my name is Khan. In it, the main character played by popular actor Shah Rukh Khan Repeats the lines ‘My name is Khan. I am not a terrorist’ at different points in the film, in order to affirm his innocence. I too am about to tell you a similar story.  ‘My name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a terrorist’.  This is my theme.

The story of ‘My name is Khan’ centres around the harassment a Muslim man with the name of Khan has to endure following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York, USA.  These attacks on the Twin Towers generated both fear and anger in the minds of the American people. Some extremist groups tried to unleash the feelings of anger against ordinary Muslim people living in the US.  The film’s narrative is set against this background.

You are trying to do the same thing today. You are trying to use the fear and anger generated in the minds of the Sinhala people because of the brutality of the LTTE against those of us who have been advocating respect for human rights in Sri Lanka, including respect for the rights of the Tamil people of our country.  When I say ‘you’ I do not only mean you as an individual, Mr. Minister. I include the entire gamut of people who do your bidding, including those media persons who sing your praises with no shame.

Do you know what baseless and venomous lies the media under your control has spread about me in the past few weeks? Have either you or your acolytes ever tried to behave in accordance with universally accepted media ethics and asked me for my comments on your revelations? Isn’t your talk about media ethics therefore to be understood as mere political hogwash?

In the film, Sameer, the young son of Khan and his wife Mandira is brutally killed by a gang of boys of his own age. This act of savagery became possible only because the feelings of anger and hatred that I described earlier had been let loose in their community.  There can be nobody who watches this film whose heart and mind are not captivated by the tragedy of the child’s murder and the subsequent events. In the past weeks I too have read newspaper reports about your children. How disturbed you would have been after reading such stories? Can you imagine how many deaths my family, my children, have gone through as a result of the vicious campaign being carried out against me by you and the media that serves your will?

I fervently hope that one day you will be able to think about others as you think about yourself; this is the preaching of the Lord Buddha.

You talk over and over again about media ethics. You order news websites to be shut down because they are acting without respect for these ethics. You warn us that you will bring about a Code of Ethics for the Media that will be very special to Sri Lanka.

You are levelling charges against a group of journalists, accusing them of receiving money from the LTTE and carrying out a traitor’s agenda. You say that these media persons and journalists are now living abroad.  You say they cannot be prosecuted because the Sri Lankan law does not permit it.

Mr. Minister, while your media people broadcast your words on this subject, they project images of me at various media freedom demonstrations on the screen behind them. With respect to which Code of Ethics are you displaying my photograph to illustrate baseless allegations? You say that it is because you cannot prosecute these persons who have obtained money from the LTTE under existing Sri Lankan law that you are not revealing their names.  But your media institutions carry my photograph as an illustration to this statement. What is the intention behind this? Is it NOT to implicate me in your statement? Why is it that your acolytes have permission to do what you don’t dare to do? It must be that you think you do not need to be bound by any ethical standards because you are in power.

You advise the media about the use of language. Yet the media under your control continue to use the vilest forms of hate speech against me, shamelessly and without any proof to back up whatever they are saying. You reward these acolytes of yours with awards of media excellence.

Is it your theory and your practice that only your opponents should be held responsible for respecting media ethics? Is this how you devalue your own use of the media?

Wasn’t it your media that repeatedly broadcast the canard that at the session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in September last year, the Maldivian President said that ‘Sunanda Deshapriya is a traitor to the nation’ even after it had been proved to be false and inaccurate? Where were the media ethics that you preach, then? The first ethical consideration of any journalist or media person is that of respect for the truth. Doesn’t the media under your control break this principle every day? Is the proverb ‘Practise what you preach’ not applicable to Ministers of this government?

Since a while ago I have publicly challenged your government to prove that I have received even one cent from the LTTE. The truth of the matter is that neither you nor your government nor anyone else holds on shred of evidence to prove this. If your government is capable of indicting members of the military and the Police for having accepted money from the LTTE, why should we believe that you are not able to do the same in the case of journalists who have received money from the LTTE? I accuse you of trying to unleash the same forces of extremism that Khan and Mandira faced on the murder of their son Sameer against me and all others working for the defence of human rights and media freedom in Sri Lanka today.

It is no secret that I hold an extremely critical view of the Rajapakse regime. As Media Minister, you are obliged to defend my right to hold those views. Instead, you are engaged in taking away that space from us and terrorizing us. Please remember that the right to hold dissenting views is one of ethical bases of media freedom.

On ITN, in the ‘Athulanthaya’ (Interior) programme, you said something ridiculous: That because you cannot take these charges before the law, lacking evidence, you are instead placing them before the people. What does this mean? Why must you take information that has no basis and therefore would not stand scrutiny in a court of law into the public arena? Doesn’t this show us that you are trying to build a hate campaign against me in the minds of the people?

In June 2009, award-winning journalist and Secretary of the Working Journalists’ Association, Poddala Jayantha, was abducted and brutally assaulted because of a similar hate campaign. You who are levelling the most absurd of charges against media persons fighting for media freedom today, what have you done to bring the perpetrators of the attack on Jayantha to justice, almost three years after the attack? Tell us if there is even one example where you and your government have brought any of those responsible for killing, beating and harassing journalists and media persons to justice.

As Media Minister, you are raising against unfounded allegations against us. But the allegations we raise against you as media freedom fighters are completely factual.

When cartoonist and media activist Prageeth Eknaligoda was abducted three years ago, it is you who confidently told us that he would return in two weeks time. Referring to Lalith and Kugan, two activists who disappeared from Jaffna a few months ago, you said that they had not in fact disappeared and that they were still alive. When Uthayan Editor Kuhanathan was brutally assaulted and almost killed, all you could say was that as the Minister for Media, when a journalist was assaulted, you could only pay him a visit in hospital.

Did you see the photographic records of the gangsters armed with poles and clubs who gathered in front of the Fort Railway Station to prevent the Black January protest demonstration from taking place? Did you see the reports that said they received packed lunches for free?   Why are the restrictions and forms of censorship applied to media organizations not valid for supporters of the regime? It is you who should respond to these questions, as the Minister responsible for the Media. Where, alas, are your ethics now?

I would be remiss if I did not remind you here that we have a far longer list of violations and omissions of justice to lay at your door.

In November 2010, you said that you needed a clear definition of who is a journalist and a media person; now, in January 2012, you say that in fact you do not know who is a journalist any longer.  Isn’t this amazing?

Look at what you say at the media briefings you summon week after week, about media freedom, about media ethics and about journalists who receive money from the LTTE and even you will feel sorry for yourself.

Let us debate about politics and about ideological differences. In this month of January that we have declared to be a ‘Black January’, let us debate about whether journalists have been murdered or not, about whether media institutions have been set on fire or not, and about whether on some of these occasions, the true perpetrators of these crimes have been left free while others have been falsely arrested or not.  I defend your right to criticize my politics. But you have no right to build a hate campaign against me based on untruth. Neither you nor your cohorts have the right to label me as a terrorist when you have nothing to prove your case.

Mr. Minister, my name is Sunanda Deshapriya. I am not a terrorist.

  • Absolutely fabulous article! Unless the government understand that there can be no real progress and development until we have a free media and a culture that encourages dissenting views, we will continue to languish in an illusive sense of progress.

  • The paragraph given below is taken from William L. Shirers “THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH”

    “I myself was to experience how easily one is taken in by a lying and censored press and radio in a totalitarian state. Though unlike most Germans I had daily access to foreign newspapers, especially those of London, Paris and Zurich,which arrived the day after publication, and though I listened regularly to the BBC and other foreign broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one’s inherent distrust of what one learned from Nazi sources,a steady diet over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one’s mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime’s calculated and incessant propaganda. Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a cafe, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were.”

  • justitia

    The minister should answer these accusations, in this blog, or in the print or electronic media.
    If he does not,it will only confirm what Deshapriya says.

  • wijayapala

    I don’t see what Sunanda has against MR. After all, he had nothing bad to say about the LTTE’s terrorism.

  • Wallflower

    Mr Sunanda Deshapriya The Minister may not have the time to read this since he is more interested in beating Cuba in The World Press Freedom Index 2012.

    • justitia

      Wallflower, you may be wrong.
      According to Dayan Jayatilleke, Cuba is like utopia, and Fidel is the best leader ever.
      He has even written a book about it

  • ( ‘1984’ – George Orwell)

    ‘..the three slogans of the Ministry of Truth came back at him:

    WAR IS PEACE

    FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

    IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

    The Party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears.It was their final, most essential command.His heart sank as he thought of the enormous power arrayed against him, the ease with any party intellectual would overthrow him in a debate, the subtle arguments which he would not be able to understand, much less answer. And yet he was in the right! They were wrong and he was right. The obvious, the silly, and the true had got to be defended. Truisms are true, hold on to that! The solid world exists, its laws do not change.Stones are hard, water is wet, objects unsupported fall toward the earth’s center.With the feeling he was speaking to O’Brien, and also that he was setting forth an important axiom, he wrote:

    ‘ Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two makes four. If that is granted, all else follows.’

  • ‘Truthful lips endure for ever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment’

    -Proverbs-

  • N. Wimaladasa

    Right to critized govt policies are your absoult freedom of your profession.Support or opposed of LTTE terrorist-outfit is also your right.
    But you know very well, you have been with JVP-anachist-terrorist out-fit(politics) when you were young,as Badual JVP orginizer since 1967 to …..
    That is why general public says your are A terrorist!Becasue of your past grave error you have NOT BEEN RECTIFTY AND NOT MAKE PUBLIC SELF-CRITIRISIM BY YOURSELF publicly and aplolgy from people of Sri Lanka.Evidence of past remain with bad image of your deeds, among the revolutinatires and progress right thinking people in our island.
    Your ongoing mission is not CLEAR not against MR govt,but against soverginiety and national indendpandence of POOR PEOPLE OF SRI LANKA.Ours were 435 under the colonial rulars dominiated and 64 years of dark age and 45 years under terrorist rule since foundation of JVP 1965.Then 30 years of LTTE war against to be divided PEOPLE of Sri Lanka into two nations.WHAT esal?

  • Piranha

    Rambukwella, [edited out] is doing the dirty on all who oppose the Rajapakse regime in the only way they know how – false accusations, thuggery, abduction, and murder. Decent voices like Deshapriya’s are being silenced slowly but surely.What the Rajapakse’s did to the tamils they will do to the sinhala dissenters in the months and years to come.

  • Excellent and thoughtful article.

  • nathan

    Sunanda, you wrote this and the poor minister fell out of his window.

    Please do write a letter to the President as well!

  • yapa

    I feel like this is a quarrel of two bad parties(a party and an individual really),to which we should not be a party. I think none can defend any of their work. Sunanda too is not a saint. Everybody knows what he did when he was an office bearer of free media moment, mis-appropriation of funds, he did not clear himself from that.What does he has to say about it? He must level allegations against him as well.

    Thanks!

    • Keynes!

      Yapa,

      Please elaborate as to how much money was misappropriated by the FMM. Can you also tells us when this happened and what took place?

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    Sunanda,

    What you said about the minister and the rest is absoultely correct. But what about the misappropriation of funds of free media movement, which Yapa pointed out? If it is true how can you point a finger at politicians?

    • Keynes!

      PitastharaPuthraya,

      Please elaborate as to how much money was misappropriated by the FMM. Can you also tells us when this happened and who the parties were?

    • FMM has not made any statement that I have misappropriated any amount of money form the movement. FMM has not even asked me to explain any such misdeed. This is a allegation by some media. On the contrary I have worked voluntarily for years for the FMM and spend my own resources for its activities; On sever5al occasions I have challenged any one to prove if I have taken a cent from FMM for my personal use. I am still an active member of the movement. Sunanda Deshapriya

      • sabbe laban

        Is it true that a probe is going on in Sri Lanka into those allegations?

      • yapa

        I also believe FMM did not do what have said? Then you are cleared?

        Thanks!

      • yapa

        Dear Sunanda,

        Attack is not always the best form of defence(especially when one is in a glass house).

        thanks!

      • Keynes!

        Sunanda,

        You are such a spoilsport. I did not pose the question to you. It was to Yapa and that Pisthara Putty whatever.

      • uvindu kurukulasuriya

        Sunanda , can you explain why you were sacked by CPA?
        Uvindu

    • Keynes!

      [Edited out]

      Dear Keynes!,

      Your question is not relevant to the topic of the article. You’re free, however, to contact Malinda Seneviratne if you insist on obtaining an answer to your question.

      Thank you.

      GV.

  • Groundviews

    Dear all,

    We would like this discussion to focus on the topic of the article, and not about the allegations of financial misappropriation with respect to other cases. Several questions have been posed by Malinda Seneviratne, Uvindu K., and others. We will allow the author to respond (if he wishes to respond) to these questions, but further comments on this matter will not be approved.

    Thank you.

    GV.

  • PitastharaPuthraya

    I did not raise the issue to undermine Sunanda. It was disturbing to see the name of a person of his calibre, who fights for rights of media, minorities etc attracting the wrath of MR and his henchmen, has been tarnished by this type of allegation. Honestly, I do not know whether this allegation is true or not. I want him to clarify his name so that I can see that the words are coming from a honest individual.

  • sabbe laban

    Mr. Mahendra(n)

    Are you unable to anawser the question raised by Hon. Yapa?

  • sabbe laban

    Sunanda Deshapriya

    Your silence, creats a doubt & casts a sinister shadow over your integrity!

  • yapa

    Now Fredrica Janz says the fraud runs into Rs. 40 million.

    http://www.thesundayleader.lk/2012/06/03/fmm-hides-40-million-fraud/

    Thanks!