By Malinda Seneviratne –
It is pathetic, to say the least, when media rights advocates stretch and strain to scratch out some logic when they come out to defend their friends. The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, the Free Media Movement, and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions are up in arms about the arrest of two persons who have nothing to do with the media, except the media exposure they seek for the organizations and politics they represent and embody.
It is good to stand up for friends. Nothing wrong in that. The problem is that that HR (human rights) labels don’t give immunity to anyone, especially when it comes to ensuring the security of a country that has suffered 30 years of terrorism, not forgetting that in this case hardcore LTTE operatives are involved. Pertinent also is the fact that media rights is peripheral at best in this case.
On the other hand, no one need to be surprised about media right advocates who have a long history of being swayed by cash and prompted by political preferences firing off media releases (only) when fellow-travelers get into a spot of bother.
But what of Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen, the two ‘human rights activists’ we are talking about? The usual ‘rights’ suspects, Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Sudharshan Gunawardena and J.C. Weliamuna were quick to air their horror. So too was Groundviews, the website powered by Saravanamuttu’s NGO, Centre for Policy Alternatives. They are all upset about the arrest. They are upset also that Jeyakumari Balendran, another ‘activist’ was arrested. They are not upset about Jeyakumari’s connections with ‘Gobi’, a known terrorist with a criminal record. They are not upset that Gobi, previously an understudy to the LTTE’s intelligence chief, Pottu Amman, has been involved in a network that has robbed demining equipment belonging to another NGO and has used these to look for weapons buried as the LTTE fled the advancing security forces in 2009.
They find a contradiction between what the government is saying in Geneva and what is happening on the ground here in Sri Lanka. This is strange. Do they think that commitment to upholding human rights equals a license to drop guard and let terrorists roam about regrouping, re-arming, recruiting and in other ways preparing ground for another bloodbath?
They are upset by the Prevention of Terrorism Act, under which their friends have been arrested. That’s easy to say, because they are not in charge of national security. In an ideal world we wouldn’t need a PTA. In an ideal world, let us not forget, we won’t have the LTTE and its NGO sympathizers, an LTTE rump and their ‘media advocacy friends’, priests who use cross and cassock to give respectability to criminals.
It is silly to think that these lovely gentlemen are unaware of what the Jeyakumaris and Gobis of this world are up to; after all they are also friends or else friends of friends of key individuals in the GTE, TGTE, TCC, HQGP and other would-be successors to the LTTE. If they indeed were that ignorant, by now they would know who is who and what is what. Even if they continue to feign ignorance, there is no hiding the fact that Jeyakumari is two-faced and that her activism was cover for activity that is of serious concern to those responsible for national security. They would love the security establishment to look the other way, it seems. Fortunately it has not.
Groundviews is right in one thing. There is a democracy deficit in this country. That deficit is enshrined in the constitution and made more pronounced by beneficiaries of that same deficit who do little or nothing to bridge it. On the other hand, you can also say goodbye to opportunities to close to gap if you are openly supporting moves to make for an LTTE resurrection. That’s what Jeyakumari is about. That’s what those who are championing her ‘cause’ are about.
It is no wonder that both the USA and UK, the key movers and shakers against Sri Lanka in Geneva, appear to have swallowed their proverbial tongues with respect to Jeyakumari. They are focusing on Ruki and his priest friend. The reason is simple. They are interested in regime-change. They are not gung ho about an LTTE reincarnation. What all these people are missing is that such a rebirth requires midwives, facilitators such as Ruki and Fr Praveen, and a veritable army of attendants, mostly donor-dependent nobodies who are forced therefore to call themselves ‘civil society’.
It would lovely if this country didn’t have a PTA. It would be lovely if people who believe they have been wronged can protest at will. It is sad that there are people wearing multiple hats, just like LTTE cadres who switched from military fatigues to sarongs, just like suicide bombers who dressed up as pregnant women, just like the LTTE’s propagandists who went around with Media IDs. We don’t live in a happy world. But if we are to aspire to any reasonable degree of happiness, we need to be alert. We cannot afford another thirty years of bloodshed.
There’s a case being made for strengthening the PTA. That case is being made by a lot of people. Let us name some. We have Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, J.C. Weliamuna and Sudharshan Gunawardena. We have The Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, the Free Media Movement, and the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Unions. We can’t really say ‘Thank you gentlemen for the sustained development of the democracy deficit’.
*Malinda Seneviratne is the Chief Editor of ‘The Nation’ and his articles can be found at www.malindawords.blogspot.com