This is a time when moderation, commonsense and basic decency have been cast to the four winds in Sri Lanka. It is a time when hatred against different communities is hailed and felicitated. And President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s appeal to the media this week not to give publicity to rampaging monks of the Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) certainly does not solve this problem. Rather, it exacerbates the issue.
Unacceptable and simplistic injunctions
Is the President then stating that the media should stand idly bye, (as much as the police are wont to do), when attacks are carried out on perfectly legitimate Muslim establishments? It is the primary duty of the Government, its investigators and its prosecutors to put an end to illegal activities. When the Government abstains from bringing the full and awful force of the law to bear against these miscreants, it is the Government at fault. To claim that the media, by giving publicity to such attacks, enables those who are responsible or boosts their inflammatory rhetoric, is simplistic and simply unacceptable.
This is similar to the injunction sought to be issued by the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence and the President’s brother, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa some time ago that the media should not give so much prominence to reporting on crime. Yet the issue is not the reporting. It is about lawlessness and the negation of the law.
Our security now is about deterring criminality
This is part of the increased pattern of local/provincial government councilors violating the law with impunity, ranging from the ridiculous to the outrageous. Following upon a provincial councilor forcing a teacher to kneel in front of her class after she requested his daughter to lengthen the hem of her school dress and another councilor arbitrarily closing the road in front of his house for personal reasons, we hear of another misbegotten individual assaulting a caterer. We are then told that direct Presidential intervention has resulted in some miscreants being punished. This is now accepted as normal. The law itself has become pitiably redundant in that regard.
Importantly, these are all markers to an underlying shift in the discourse on national security which has gone virtually unnoticed to many. Post-war Sri Lanka is now grappling not with traditional concepts of territorial protections and the security of the State which were our preoccupations during thirty years of conflict but rather with the monstrous flowering of a criminal enterprise run on powerful political patronage with the sole aim of making profit and using extraordinary anti-terrorism laws to boot.
While such a criminal enterprise was in the making for some years, a potent indicator to that effect was the recent arrest and detention of a hitherto protected, (the list of previous crimes for which he had escaped any responsibility is a long one), senior policeman, DIG Vass Gunewardene under anti-terrorism laws as implicated in the contract killing of a businessman. One must question as to why the normal law which is under the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts was not invoked in this arrest but the Prevention of Terrorism Law, (PTA, 1979) which is under the authority of the Ministry of Defence. As much as in regard to the arrest and detention of Azath Salley, these are alleged violations of the law that clearly come in under the ambit of the Penal Code. Yet, provisions of the PTA are invoked without a murmur. The question is not the fair application of the law but the interplay of powerful political interests which will determine what law will be invoked and when.
Incitement of religious hatred part of the pattern
It is the same with those who engage in inciting religious or communal hatred. And National Languages and Social Integration Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara’s recent loud proclamations to enact new provisions into Sri Lanka’s Penal Code to deal with hate speech is merely painfully myopic at best and politically disengenous, at worst. Notwithstanding his diatribes against Sri Lanka’s 43rd Chief Justice on the floor of the House during that most distasteful impeachment some months ago, this promise no doubt gets him out of the prickly problem of remaining within the Rajapaksa administration whilst not seeming to agree with its more problematic policies. His justification is that the PTA which already deals with the propagation of communal, racial and religious hatred and the like is a special law whereas similar amendments are needed in the ordinary law.
Yet these are truly laughable explanations. In the first instance, the Minister needs be educated, if he surely does not know already, that the PTA has virtually replaced the ordinary law in the land as exemplified by the arrests of Salley and Vaas Gunewardene albeit in highly differing circumstances. Secondly, as reflected earlier in these column spaces, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act No 56 of 2007 already prohibits propagation of war and religious hatred. This is a special law under which indictment is directly to the High Court and would be most appropriate to invoke if political will was evidenced. In addition, Section 120 of the Penal Code already prohibits and punishes the promotion of feelings of ill will and hostility between different classes of people. The question therefore is not the absence of adequate law. Rather than advocating unnecessary additions to the Penal Code, the Minster may be better served in principle to resign forthwith from this Government.
A despairing post-war Sri Lanka
In sum, laws will certainly not deter the vast criminal enterprise that is slowly spreading its tentacles over law enforcement, the legal and judicial institutions and the economic sector with expedient use of the incitement of communal and religious hatred to serve its purpose at any given time. In the meantime, propaganda hit men and hit women of this Government are unleashed to attack even the remaining few dissenters left.
This is the glory of post-war Sri Lanka that now unfolds before our despairing eyes.