By Elmore Perera –
With remarkable–though regrettable – success, the Government has covered up “its commissions and omissions (which are legion) by manipulating or harassing the Media. A rare, but welcome indication that Media freedom in Sri Lanka is not altogether “dead and buried” as yet, is that the above captioned comment in the editorial of the Island Newspaper of 25th January, 2013 was accompanied by sorely needed and appropriate publicity given to the fact that in a neighbouring country a prominent Editor was sentenced to a decade in prison for allegedly violating much debated laws designed to protect “the royal family”. Bravo Editor! More strength to your elbow! You have, perhaps unwittingly, alerted the unsuspecting and complacent Sri Lankan Public of imminent similar laws in Sri Lanka (without any debate, of course) rendering a veneer of legality to the “de facto status quo.”
I am one of many Sri Lankans who certainly have a “vested interest” in striving for the realisation of a Paradise in which all Sri Lankans, irrespective of race, religion, caste, culture sex, social standing or any other differences, will be considered truly equal. I believe that all truly patriotic Sri Lankans undoubtedly share that “vested interest”, even though far too few dare to even talk about it for fear of displeasing those who wield power as they please.
A glorious opportunity for realisation of that “dream” presented itself with the remarkable defeat of LTTE terrorism in May 2009 as a result of what has been, and still is described as “a humanitarian military operation with zero civilian casualties”. All Sri Lankans, except for a few die-hard LTTE terrorists, heaved a huge sigh of relief in May 2009 and eagerly looked forward to a peace that would enable them to resume their simple but contented life styles, reaching out to one another with the warm hospitality and cordiality that was part and parcel of Sri Lankan life. Very few cared to look beyond that to an affluent, but counterproductive and even destructive, life style. However this simple “peace” continued to elude them. They found themselves in an unending rat race with all rewards reserved for a few select “fat and prosperous rats”.
Addressing the weekly Cabinet press briefing, the omniscient Media Minister asserted that there was an organised group creating ethnic disharmony. He stated that, informed of this disturbing trend of events, the Rajapaksa Government was watching the situation carefully and action will be taken against those responsible. He further stated that “the President proposes Parliamentary Committee to discuss crisis”.
Without any notable exceptions, the most influential leaders of all the Religions in this country which boasts of being blessed with all major religions of the world, appealed to President Rajapaksa to refrain from impeaching a Chief Justice who fearlessly acted according to the oath taken by her to uphold and defend the Constitution. Undeterred and unabashed, with an unprecedented display of violence, thuggery and state power, by recourse to a wholly unlawful exercise of power by a Parliamentary Select Committee, the vile deed was done. We ceased to be a nation governed by a system of laws to which lawmakers themselves are subject. Both the Executive and the Legislature blatantly disregarded the provisions of the very Constitution which they had sworn to uphold and defend. This, was a clear indication that in Sri Lanka now, “Might is Right”.
On 18th January 2013, in his pastoral letter, the Bishop of Colombo stated that this is a time for us to take an honest look at ourselves. He stated further that we have shamelessly compromised our loyalty to our God and need to repent of ways in which we, as individuals as well as collectively, have
(i) been silent when we should have spoken,
(ii) allowed ourselves (thoughtlessly or out of fear) to be used by those in authority to speak lies or commit wrong or unjust acts, and
(iii) consciously received benefits for ourselves through acts of injustice committed against others.
“When others may be controlled by fear and helplessness, we must remember that our Lord who was crucified and suffered death was raised to new life, offering hope to all.”
The Bishop concluded by reiterating the words of St. Paul, “Therefore my brethren, stand firm and immovable, and work for the Lord always; work without limit since you know that in the Lord, your labour cannot be in vain”.
Notwithstanding brutally suppressed protests, a Parliamentary Select Committee has come
to be foisted on the Sovereign people as the “de facto” apex judicial authority in this “Wonder of Asia”. Welcoming the ‘de facto Chief Justice’ to the “de jure apex judicial authority” still called the Supreme Court, the Attorney General aptly drew attention to the following statement of President Abdul Kalaam, former President of India. “If you salute your duty you need not salute anyone. If however you pollute your duty you will have to salute everyone”. In the wake of numerous allegations of abuse of the powers of the post of Attorney General, (some of which are even now before the Supreme Court of which he has been appointed the head) and as legal advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers, it is unlikely that this “de facto Chief Justice” will have much time for anything other than “saluting” everyone who matters.
Leader of the House, eminent lawyer Nimal Siripala de Silva had, at about the same time that the aforementioned editor was sentenced to a decade in prison, told Parliament on 24th January 2013 that a Special PSC would be set up “to address growing concerns on the rise in racial intolerance and religious fundamentalism in the country”. Stating that these important issues cannot be addressed on party lines he said “we all have to get together to tackle problems that can arise and cost our country its hard won peace. It is only those with vested interests who will benefit from such situations”.
Rt. Rev. Dhiloraj Canagasabey, Bishop of Colombo aforereferred to, as the name clearly indicates, is a Tamil. His “racial tolerance” level is such that he has been happily married to a Sinhalese lady and has provided Sri Lanka with a model Sri Lankan family of four, for more than two decades now. The way things are being done in this “Wonder of Asia”, it will be no surprise if these facts are suppressed and the Bishop of Colombo is hauled up before this proposed Special Select Committee on the basis of fabricated anonymous allegations of “racial intolerance and religious fundamentalism” in this country.
If Sri Lanka is to survive as a civilised nation, sooner rather than later we need to make a concerted effort to make “Justice the measuring line, and Righteousness the Plumb Line”. We can no longer rest on the laurels of a “glorious victory” and permit anarchy to reign in this potential Paradise.
*Elmore Perera, Attorney-at-Law, Founder CIMOGG, Past President OPA