Colombo, Human Rights, Peace and Conflict

Media and Violence

Editors note: A Sinhala version of this article, in the form of a PDF, can be found here.

Armed struggle and media freedom

Night of fifth of this month, was a sleepless night for us. Reason being that former journalist Lalith Seneviratne was abducted from his residence. That night, all of us tried our best in every possible manner to save his life.

The next night, the sixth, was once again a sleepless night. This time it was due to the news that said the “Akuna” media staff including Lalith Seneviratne had accepted they have in collaboration with the LTTE, resorted to violent acts in the ‘South’. This created a serious confusion that night, as to what stand we could now take on this matter.

Lalith Seneviratne, Sisira Priyankara and Nihal Serasinghe, all activists of the Railway Union Federation’s bi-monthly publication “Akuna”, were abducted on the night of 05th February. Abductions are plainly a violation of the law, in a democratic society. We condemned all those abductions. We demanded that they be presented in courts, if any state institute had in fact taken them under custody.

The LTTE connection
Next day, the government announced that all three of them accepted they were a part of a movement which accepted armed struggle against neo-colonialism to capture state power. More over, the government announced that they have accepted working with the LTTE and have owned they have carried out armed violence in the South.

Do these news statements nullify the statements we made at the time of their abductions ? Do we become indirect associates of their armed movement ?

The first phone call on the abduction of Lalith Seneviratne was received on 05th night, at about 11.30 pm. At that time, his wife and two other media colleagues were at the Athurugiriya police station to make a complaint. When they were contacted over the phone, it was revealed the Athurugiriya police was totally unaware of this incident.

Vasu’s message
There after Vasudeva, a member of the Civil Monitoring Committee on abductions was contacted. He had in turn contacted the Athurugiriya police and had been told that the CID had not taken Lalith into custody.

Those who took away Lalith had told his wife Kanthi, they are from the CID. But now Vasu was told the CID knew nothing about this.

We then decided to go public about this abduction, as all such efforts in finding some source of information on his where about, became futile. Ours was an effort to safeguard a basic human right.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s past
We felt this incident should be brought to the notice of Mahinda Rajapaksa, as he was also active against similar abductions and disappearances during 1988 – 90 period. During that period when Mahinda Rajapaksa was working closely with Human Rights Organisations against violations of rights, in the South, abductions and disappearances were carried out in the pretext of wiping out terrorism. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s popular image which paved the way for him to ascend the presidency, was partly etched by his campaigns against the government on abductions and disappearances through movements like the Mothers’ Front.

There is a tradition in this country to protest against any abduction, whether carried out by the state or by any an armed group and also ignoring the politics of the victim. Every political party in this country, some time in their history at least, had played such roles in opposing abductions. But its only a few in the Human Rights Movement who campaigned for a sustainable approach in enforcing law and order in protesting against abductions and disappearances. We of the Free Media Movement, based on such past experience, upheld this principle in protesting against the abduction of the three Trade Union media activists.

Real challenge

The real challenge in safeguarding social values in a democratic society is not during peaceful times. That comes when facing brutal forces. Therefore every democratic movement and organization have a right to protest against torture, abductions and extra judicial killings. Unfortunately, such forces are deplete now. While the likes of Charles Abeysekera are not found in civil society movements, likes of Mahinda Rajapaksa are not there in the opposition.

In the past, during the post 1983 period, there were those who tried to form revolutionary political movements in the South, in collaboration with armed groups in the North. Some had arms training in the North. Armed robberies were carried out to raise funds. Few of them did hold ministerial portfolios later in their life and some even today, are influential personalities in the government. They were similarly arrested or abducted around 1985. Charles Abeysekera then assisted in strengthening the Human Rights movement which even went to the extent of providing legal aid through the launch of the broad platform, Committee for the Release of Political Prisoners (CROPP).

It is good if those who feel or oppose the stand taken by the Free Media Movement in protesting against these abductions, could reflect on that past. We honour that tradition.

The military itself
There is yet another that needs mention. There are those who scheme to take into custody the media personnel who stand for media freedom, on the pretext that some journalists are LTTE collaborators. They should not forget that the military itself owns that there are collaborators in the armed forces too. The media later reported that some of those accused were subsequently found innocent of the charges made against them.

In a democratic society, every citizen has a right to live under the protection of the law. The law should prevail and the judiciary should deliver verdicts at all times. All others could only accuse. Every individual has the right to prove his innocence in courts and will be considered innocent, until proven guilty.

We stand for that right. Not to drive fear into society or destroy the society through terror and violence. We are uncompromisingly against any terror and violence, who ever resorts to such means.

Sunanda Deshapriya