Allegations by the opposition that the Government was moving to cancel Sirasa TV’s broadcasting licence rocked Parliament on Wednesday (7), an attempt to strike against the network that has been a major platform for criticism against President Nandasena Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s failing administration.
The uproar began after Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa said he had learnt from trusted sources that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had gathered a group of senior lawyers to study legal ways and means to ban the Sirasa TV network. They were engaged in a campaign to stop Sirasa TV’s reporting, Premadasa said.
“Why are you so afraid of Sirasa?” the Opposition Leader asked, recalling that in the recent past, the network had played a key role in creating public awareness about the plight of farmers and fishermen in the island, rampant deforestation and ecocide.
Premadasa said he was making the statement with authority. “Sirasa may have been isolated when the station was attacked with claymore mines in 2009. But today, there are hundreds of thousands of people who will stand with the broadcaster if the Government moves to silence it,” the Opposition Leader warned.
The Government launched into a litany of complaints that the Opposition was disrupting the order of the House at every sitting by making false claims picked up on the way to Parliament.
JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake launched into a characteristically pithy and fiery speech, demanding that the Government end all efforts to ban the Sirasa Network. The regime had already banned protests and demonstrations indefinitely and was now turning its guns on the independent media, he charged.
“The Government in power today has a dark and brutal history of repression,” Dissanayake claimed.
The Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government had failed to deliver on any of its election pledges and could no longer face the people, Dissanayake explained. “Throughout history, leaders who fail their people resort to repression and authoritarianism. These arrests are part of that repression. This attempt to silence the media is part of that repression,” the JVP Leader charged.
Dissanayake reminded the House that the current President had a dark past. When the man who holds the highest office of the land has murder on his hands, people are justifiably fearful, he said.
“The White Van Reign of Terror began under his orders. Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered on his orders. Poddala Jayantha was brutally assaulted and left on the street on his orders. Keith Noyhar was abducted on his orders. Prageeth Ekneligoda was disappeared on his orders. Activists Lalith and Kugan were disappeared on his orders. This man with murder on his hands holds the highest office of the land. Why wouldn’t the people be fearful? Isn’t this fear justified?” Dissanayake charged.
Calling the attempt to ban Sirasa an “ugly conspiracy” by the Rajapaksa regime, Dissanayake said that it was unacceptable that only obedient cronies who amplified Government propaganda were allowed to use the public airwaves and exercise the right to free expression. “Why should the people be forced to hear only these voices?” he said.
Watch Anura Dissanayake’s Speech:
Dissanayake also issued a chilling warning to ruling party members seated in Government benches in front of him.
“I feel sorry for you,” he said.
Repressive leaders eventually turn on their own party, he warned. Those who would be slavish obedient dogs of the ruler need not fear, but Dissanayake said he knew there were Government MPs genuinely committed to serving the people who would one day feel a pricking of conscience.
“When the 18th Amendment was passed, we warned that those who vote for the draconian amendment will eventually become victims of authoritarianism themselves. When the 20th Amendment was passed, allowing dual citizens to hold public office, we warned that this would happen,” Dissanayake recalled.
The repression would begin with opposition members and critics, warned the JVP Leader. “But remember that it will end with a gun to your own heads. You will be the eventual victims of authoritarianism,” Dissanayake foretold.
Sirasa was paying a price for exposing Government corruption, including the sugar scam and the attempt to sell of vast swathes of Colombo city under the Selendiva scheme, the JVP Leader charged. “The Government must immediately halt attempts to silence Sirasa,” he demanded. (Nimal Ratnaweera)