By Laksiri Fernando –
Now the Secretary of Defence, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, has given his side of the story to Lakbima. He claims that he only ‘threatened to sue her’ and ‘not to kill her’ to mean The Sunday Leader Editor, Frederica Jansz. But there can be many personal threats in between the two, for the particular female journalist. The threatening is not denied. There is no denial of the whole story reported verbatim and only ‘provocation’ was attributed as the defence or the reason. Here we are not talking about an ordinary person, but a high government official with immense responsibility and power behind him in the defence establishment. He is also the brother of the ‘Executive’ President of the country.
The language that the Secretary used is of course deplorably abusive or ‘third class’ but more than that there was some measured force and threat in the whole language that he used. This is not the first time that he has behaved in this manner or used such language. In the background of white van abductions, disappearances and recent raids on the media institutions, the personal threat to Ms Frederica Jansz should not be taken lightly. It is barely three years that her predecessor Editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wickrematunga, was killed in broad day light in a military fashion. The police under the Ministry of Defence have so far not been able to bring the perpetrators of this heinous crime to justice.
I am not completely sure whether there would be a ‘groundswell’ of protest against the behaviour of the Secretary of Defence on this occasion, as predicted by some, given that the democratic opposition against this government is still incipient and unfortunately divided and the Man in question is still maintaining a certain profile given his actual and partly ‘hijacked role’ in the struggle against terrorism in the country. But there are so many reasons why he should resign or be removed from this important position of the Secretary of Defence.
Abuse of Power
The whole ‘puppy story’ is about the abuse of power, influence and family connections. Can an ordinary citizen of the country, who can of course bear the cost of the cargo, bring a puppy from Zurich to his wife and request the Sri Lanka Airlines to assign a friend as the pilot to do the job?
When the question was asked, the arrogant answer was: “So what is wrong with that?” It was further justified with details and told that even a dog was brought before perhaps in the same fashion and even he can bring an elephant! This is not merely a question or an element of ‘extravagance,’ as some have tried to underestimate. It was also revealed that he has friends who will do him favours and “what is wrong with that?” Given the threats that he has levelled against the particular journalist, one could wonder what other kind of favours his friends could execute for him on his request?
When the objection of the Pilots Guild to the change of the aircraft to ‘bring his cargo’ was mentioned, he was naturally angry. Then was the threat of suing the journalist if the story was published but also adding that “I am not afraid of the bloody courts!” There was no particular reason to mention the courts here other than the question of legal process of suing, but why then “the bloody courts” except for his assumed power above everything in the country, including the courts? It is because of this ‘attitude of power,’ among other reasons that he should be removed from the position of the Secretary of the Ministry that he holds.
It should also be noted that his final threat as reported by Frederica Jansz is not merely about suing, although that is how he has defended himself later with Lakbima newspaper. When he was asked “Mr Rajapaksa are you threatening me?” the answer was “Yes! I am threatening you! Write every single word I have told you if you want – you write a bloody f…g word and we will see..” It is about “we will see..” without specifying what and not about ‘suing.” This is where the danger is for the particular journalist that everyone should take into serious account.
Many have written about the foul language that Gotabaya Rajapaksa has used particularly in the second interview. It was mildly criticised as something that was ‘out of line.’ He has called names. He has called the ‘pilots fighting among themselves’ as “f…g idiots.” The most axiomatic is the following outburst whether provoked or not.
“Your type of journalists are pigs who eat shit! Pigs who eat shit! Shit, Shit Shit journalists!!! Ninety percent of the people in this country hate you! They hate you!!! You come for a function where I am and I will tell people this is the Editor of The Sunday Leader and ninety percent there will show that they hate you.”
It may be the case that the particular kind of journalism that the Sunday Leader is used to, very much similar to the Hard Talk of BBC is anathema for many of the politicians in Sri Lanka when they are particularly in the government. Even some leading journalists seem to be apprehensive about the style. But a Secretary of a Ministry should be different whatever the style of the journalist. That is where the whole mix up is at present.
If Gotabaya Rajapaksa resigns and get into politics directly perhaps people could understand him in the caliber of, for example, Mervyn Silva and then it is a matter for the voters to elect him or not. But as a public servant and a ministry secretary, his language and behavior towards the people and particularly the journalist in this case should have been different. If he cannot behave in that dignified fashion, then the honorable thing for him is to resign.
There is more to his language. His use of abusive words has been counted by others. His particular use of the word ‘Kill or killing’ is undoubtedly problematic. It is also dangerous. His second interview ended perhaps with the wish “people will kill you, people will hate you, they will kill you.” This reminded me of the occasion when I detected this trait first in him when he exploded giving an interview to Stephen Sucker of the BBC Hard Talk in June 2010 saying “We will Hang Him” to mean the former General Sarath Fonseka with extreme anger. The whole interview was embryonic of the present.
For a long time I had difficulties in understanding Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s language, expressions and behavior until I came across a study by Drs. Neil J Fernando and Ruwan M Jayatunga on “Combat Related PSTD” to mean post-traumatic stress disorder (Colombo Telegraph, 11 July 2012). While the study has mainly been on the recent soldiers and officers who had come across or suffered from this syndrome during the war before May 2009, in my opinion, it is also possible that who have had this experience previously or who were closely commanding the war events also could suffer from the same syndrome/s. While the PTSD might be the key to understanding what can be identified as atrocities or war crimes during the last stages of the war, among other things, the study says that the “PTSD is a multifaceted disorder with a number of associated features, including guilt, anger, depression, substance abuse and other anxiety based conditions.”
Whatever the reason for the present behavior and the language of the Secretary of Defense, it is obvious that he should not be kept in that position by any criteria of civility or good governance. Either he should graciously resign or he should be removed.