Colombo, Human Rights, Media and Communications, Politics and Governance

Hawks and hypocrisy in the Rajapaksa administration

When President Mahinda Rajapaksa met with some editors and senior journalists recently, he was asked about the attack on the Associate Editor of the Nation. His reply was,” You know me, I didn’t care about what is written against me but other people are not like that.” One can conclude that his comments are a dead give away on who he thinks was behind the attack on Mr. Noyhar. The newspaper and many others have not shied away form pointing the finger at those who they believe are the prime suspects in this cowardly attack but as things go in Sri Lanka, there can be evidence screaming in the face of the law enforcement authorities but if the accused belong to the all powerful and mighty class of politicians or their henchmen who have become the bane of this nation, you can be sure the culprits will go scot free.

The issue of media freedom in Sri Lanka cannot be looked at in isolation and has to be discussed in the context of the present situation in the country. The government is using its “api wenuwen api” anthem to brain wash the Sinhalese to being a partner to its own brand of patriotism while it liberally sweeps aside not only media freedom and dismisses the human rights violations as if they only occur in the figment of the imagination of “treacherous elements” in the country and continues to step on all the civil liberties of the people without reserve.

Many readers will jump to the conclusion that I am “anti-government” or worse, am in the pay of some NGO or a UNP agent, a Tiger sympathizer and what not but any writer who wants to air a different view from what the government wants us to do is by now used to being labeled with all these accolades.

There have been several comments with regards to my previous article on media freedom and it is clear that there are conflicting views on the matter. There were some who feel the media needs or act “responsibly” at this time because the government is engaged in a fight against terrorism and hence anything that is perceived as being supportive of the LTTE is unacceptable and could undermine the morale of the troops. There are others who, like me, feel that the media should be allowed to play their part as the watchdog of the nation and be able to criticize and expose misdeeds that are being committed by those hiding behind the shroud of the war. It is difficult to say exactly what the majority of Sri Lankans feel about the issue of media freedom without a proper survey but the two ways of thinking I have mentioned are somewhat illustrative of how people are divided on the importance they attach to media freedom.

I have noticed that many who say the Sri Lankan media is overstepping its limits when reporting on defense matters are those how are those living in western nations, far removed from the brutality of this war and they are the loudest when crying out for a military end to the civil war. I wonder if any of these proponents of the war would dare to speak up against the rights of the media in their adopted countries or send their children to the war front.

The Sri Lankan Defence Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa and Army Commander Sarath Fonseka are both technically US citizens as is the all powerful brother of the President Basil Rajapakse. The Foreign Secretary Palitah Kohana is meanwhile an Australian citizen. While not challenging their right to have a foreign passport which they can easily use as an escape route from this country if and when the need arises, their attempts to inflict a new brand of patriotism on Sri Lankan, or should I say the Sinhalese, is not helping the country at all. In fact their ultra nationalist views stink more of hypocrisy than when it is aired by those Sri Lankans who have no such foreign soils to escape to.

There can be very few Sri Lankan who will question the governments fight to crush terrorism. Yes terrorism needs to be crushed militarily and there are no two words about it. The LTTE has proven time and again that their blood thirsty leader will not settle for polite means to get him to the negotiating table and President Rajapaksa, unlike many of his predecessors does not want to fall into the same trap that Velupillai Prabhakaran had laid for the country’s former leaders which resulted in a worse blood bath being unlashed on the people after very pause in the fighting.

But what is wrong is with the way that the President, who obviously influenced by the hawkish members of his “kitchen Cabinet” who seem to be pulling the strings, is forgetting that in the guise of fighting terror, he can’t comprise on all the other rights of the people of this country. He is a democratically elected leader and just because he is fighting one of the world’s worst terrorists, it does not mean he also begins to act like one.

What the Rajapaksa government has managed to do in its two and half years in office is escalate ethnic tensions between Sinhalese and Tamils to such a level that we are sitting on an ethnic time bomb with the nightmarish situation of a repetition of the ugly scenes of 1983 hovering over us. On top of that corruption has grown to unprecedented levels while thuggery and lawlessness are growing rapidly. Media freedom as well as human rights are being violated openly with the violators, instead of being punished are being rewarded. This might be the “Meda Mulene” doctrine of putting down dissent and asserting ones hold on office but it is unlikely the people of this country are willing to be shacked for long. The government would do well realize this reality and restore to the people their democratic rights which they shouted from the roof tops to uphold on their way to gaining power.