By Taniya Raymond –
In Colombo newsrooms there is a don’t ask don’t tell policy on the coup attempt on January 8th. Colombo Telegraph and several newspapers reported on it back then in 2015, but now nobody wants to talk about it. We almost live in denial that it happened. Well, it did. It happened. There’s clear evidence as reported by several newspapers and (most high ranking state officials with access to this information) that troops were moved into camps in Panagoda and and a compound in Mattakkuliya to attempt a military coup. Forget the media, our Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera himself, in a press conference, stated that there was a military coup attempt that night.
Maj. General Sumedha Perera
It was hard to believe then, that the democracy we have lived in was soon to be pulled from under our feet and we were going to be in history books with Thailand, Myanmar and dozens of African nations for being victim to a military coup. But today, what is hard to believe is that we don’t talk about it. And nobody responsible for it was/ nor is being prosecuted. How can something so big simply slip our mind? I won’t lie, for a journalist, someone who’s supposed to be responsible for keeping up with this kind of crucial information, it had slipped my mind too. It didn’t occur to me until I received a news with a familiar name on it. The news was about the new nominee for the post of military attache’ to the UN mission in New York, a post once held by Channel 4 documentary star Shavendra Silva. The name of the new nominee read Maj. General Sumedha Perera. This name sounded so familiar. I immediately had a flashback of the names of those involved in last year’s military coup attempt. But I was in denial; it wasn’t possible that the government would do such a thing. They wouldn’t betray us so openly. I went back to our folder on the Jan 8th events and looked through it very carefully. This was the same Sumedha Perera who led the Gajaba troop to Colombo for the coup.
When Gotabaya Rajapaksa was an officer in the Sri Lankan Army his regiment was the Gajaba regiment. When he became the Secretary of Defence, he took Gajaba under his wing, and built a strong personal army of loyalists from the regiment. For those who don’t recall the details for the coup attempt, here’s the gist in a few words: the coup attempt on the night of the January 8th 2015 election was organized by Gotabaya loyalists. On the night of the presidential election Gajaba battalions of several thousand troops were dispersed to colombo from Gajaba Regiment Saliyapura camp in Anuradhapura. The commander of the Gajaba regiment Major General A K S Perera curated the dispersal of these troops.
Last year, C. A. Chandraprema, political columnist, wrote “Gota’s War” eulogising Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s contribution to the crushing of the northern insurgency, indirectly rubbishing claims that Sarath Fonseka, as Army Commander, was the principal architect of the military victory. The book was written and published before the discovery of the mass graves at Matale. In the book, in Chapter 28 titled ‘The Second JVP Insurrection’, the author makes an unintended revelation. He writes at page 173: “On 1 May 1989, with Colonel Wimalaratne being promoted to the rank of Brigadier, Gota was made the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment…With this promotion, he was posted to Matale as the district coordinating officer tasked with bringing the JVP under control. The first Gajaba Battalion, which had been in Trincomalee for nearly one and a half years, was brought down to Matale. Lieutenants Shavendra Silva, Jagath Dias and Sumedha Perera were among his company commanders in Matale…(p 177) Gota remained the security coordinating officer of Matale until the end of the second JVP insurrection. In January 1990, he applied for three months leave and went to the USA to see his family.”
In the early 2000s when Sumedha Perera was a Major he was dismissed from the Sri Lanka Army and sent on compulsory leave for allegations on forging documents to possess the Obeysekera mansion in Rajagiriya. But after Gotabaya assumed duties as Secretary of Defence he cleared his fellow Gajaba officer of his legal ramifications and took him back into the Army. Perera went on to be one of Gota’s right hand men. Despite having a track record of having committed a severe crime of property theft and being dismissed from the Army ( a disciplinary action that most military officers can never recover from) Perera went on to be promoted to General and have an outstanding military career that no officer with his kind of past could afford to. We all know that this wasn’t a story about Gota’s forgiveness and faith in humanity and second chances. Gota always expected his loyalist to payback his favors.
During the Rajapaksa regime corruption spanned through all sectors: the state sector, the foreign service and the private sector. Today it is no different. Last week the government nominated Major General Sumedha Perera to a high ranking diplomatic post as the military attache` to the Sri Lankan United Nations Mission in New York. Why is our Government providing Diplomatic Immunity to its traitors? The provision of diplomatic immunity to those under investigation, those with allegations of war crimes was a technique used by the Rajapakses. (eg. Shavendra Silva) This is opens up an interesting revelation. Why is there such a heavy influence under this government to protect Rajapaksa loyalists? Are the Rajapaksas still making the calls? Or is the Maithri-Ranil government trying find loopholes in the system to shove the coup attempt investigation under the carpet? Either way, there is a massive injustice taking place here to the 6 million citizens who voted to change these ways.
We voted on the 8th of January hoping for change. The Maithri- Ranil anti-corruption election campaign promised us justice, prosecution of the corrupt and un-doing of the government’s pre -existing systems of injustice. But our government keeps letting us down.
Here we are almost 2 years later, with only a couple of constitutional amendments to brag about; nothing much else. Our incomes, our quality of life, and corruption of the state hasn’t changed much.
Everyday there are new stories of corruption that come into our newsrooms. Most of the time they get scrapped because of the political connections of our editors. They often get phone calls from politicians, military and state officials to keep things smooth; to not talk about how their children used state perks to smuggle their blacklisted friends abroad, about the costs of certain government delegations, about corruption scandals in the military. But isn’t that our job as journalists to talk about it? To give citizens their rightful access to information? Citizens who have access to online sources may have some access to news that is often censored out of print and electronic media but what about the rest? A coup didn’t happen on the 8th of January; democracy was sustained. But is it still a democracy if citizens can’t exercise their right to information?