This article began with my thinking deeply of what hate speech is and has ended up in this. My connexion to hate speech, which I define as untrue negative stereotypes of a community, often a minority community, that result in the affected minorities feeling fearful, insulted and even hating being who they are.
I have seen children of my friends in the US hating being “Brown” and denying they are “Black.” Black and White are general conceptual descriptions whereas there is really no one who is milk-white nor shoe-black. Thus, when Indians (again a generic description) deny they are Black and insist they are Brown, they buy into the stereotypes of Whites. Indeed, anyone who is not White including Chinese, is Back. Many of us brown Blacks feel we are superior to Afro-Americans when we are called Browns rather than Blacks. This brings out the role of hate speech in the renunciation of identity.
Here in Sri Lanka many Tamils stopped wearing the Tali in public after the pogrom of July 1983, renouncing our identity which made us targets of Sinhalese criminals filled with hate for us. The highest leadership of the Sinhalese, that is members of parliament including pretending socialists like Colvin R. de Silva who framed our constitution making Buddhism the foremost religion deserving the patronage of state. This clothed the Sinhalese with racist pride as if their religion is superior to all other religions. That constitutional position is a living hate crime that puts down Sri Lankan non-Buddhists and makes them feel inferior and convert to Buddhism. We minorities do not object in fear while some of us shamelessly stooge saying they have no problems with it.
Among Tamils there is a joke/riddle asking who the missionaries of Buddhism are. The answer is crows: they eat the fruit of the bodhi tree (aka bo tree, peepal tree). They then go elsewhere and excrete the seed. A bo tree grows. Buddhists come and claim that land as holy, take it over, and build a temple. It is not funny because when a bo tree grew on my land in Colombo, on the advice of Tamil neighbours I put petrol and when that did not work, I chopped it down at night. That practice of claiming any land with a bo tree as Buddhist land has all the ingredients of a hate crime, particularly in instilling fear.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is a respected international law. As with such UN Covenants, a country that ratifies it is to make it part of domestic law. The Centre for Policy Alternatives under Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu puts the flaw this way: “The ICCPR Act’s [that is our domestic version’s] provisions are formulated in terms substantially and significantly different from the corresponding provisions of the ICCPR. This has kept the Act open to be used very differently [from] its apparent purpose.” Amnesty International says that the Act “has been used time and time again to restrict freedom of expression.”
To me the irony is that the ICCPR is to protect many of our civil and political rights, but as implemented in Sri Lanka, it violates two key ICCPR Rights: 1) Article 18(1) the freedom either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching. The word teaching involves preaching. And 2) article 19, the freedom of speech.
The President as a lawyer should understand that his family exercised this freedom of religion twice – when they became Anglicans and then again when they became Buddhists. I do not begrudge them that right. They too must not deny to others the rights they enjoyed.
As explained by Arjun Sengupta in The Indian Express (8 June 2023), Section 3 of the ICCPR which is based on the important Section 20 of ICCPR, is the problematic part because in prohibiting the propagation of war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, these offences under this section are cognizable as well as nonbailable.
By this law, our President’s Uncle JR Jayewardene’s “If you want war I will give you war” aimed at terrorizing the Tamil people should have made him locked up without bail. That is the problem. These horrid laws are meant only to incarcerate minorities.
Sepal Amarasinghe, and Nathasha Edirisooriya were arrested, and Jerome Fernando promised arrest on his return from abroad by our police for hate crimes – mainly religious jokes and preaching religion. Arrests for alleged offences under Section 3 may be made without warrant and are nonbailable. That is the problem. When an untruthful or frivolous complaint is made – it is usually by a Sinhalese against a minority member – you can be locked up.
As Sengupta explains, Article 20 was conceptualised in the aftermath of the Holocaust, which showed policy-makers the grave dangers associated with hate speech and propaganda targeting a particular community. The ICCPR Act does not differentiate and grade different types of “incitement”, unlike the UN covenant. This means, an offensive joke and a direct incitement to violence are equivalent crimes – dealt with similarly according to our Act. Second, the section allows arrests to be made without warrant as well as without provision for bail. So the joke on crows can also be used to arrest a person.
People who do not understand our judicial system may nonchalantly say, “That is ok. If there is no offence, the judge will release them.” However, the fact is that once a complaint is made, the accused has to be locked up. Most of us do not know what that really means. I have close friends, besides family members, who were locked up under the PTA and had their sarongs stolen and were homosexually raped in prison. A professor was on a crowded prison floor and the person next to him kept kissing him on the mouth. That is what prison is. My dear sister, a university lecturer, was beaten with a pole by her guard.
As a lawyer explained to me, once a charge is made, a judge has to inquire. First, it takes time. Then there are judges who think they are saving the Sinhalese race by locking up accused minorities – for longer times than their maximum sentence as has happened many times. Second, going to court is expensive business that few can afford but many lawyers will welcome. Long delays are common to the detriment of justice and our wallets, and indeed to minorities.
For example, 5 young Tamil men of promise were brutally murdered in Tincomalee on 2 Jan. 2006. Dr. Manoharan was the father of Rajihar, one of the victims of our glorious saviours who saved the Sinhalese race by murdering Tamils. Our armed forces and likely even ministers are responsible. Dr. Manoharan almost single-handedly has kept the matter alive. His need to testify resulted in witness protection, and new rights that were only half-heartedly agreed to.
Dr. Manoharan’s life is in danger because the government, like Hitler, has the “Master Race” to look after by delaying justice. Therefore, Dr. Manohar lives in London for safety. Unfortunately, after 17 years of delayed justice, Dr. Manohar has developed kidney problems and is on dialysis. It looks like our murdering saviours of the Master Race will get away. Thanks to our government which like President Wickremesinghe’s uncle, does “not care for the lives of the Tamil people”. This is why we say justice delayed is justice denied. The government and its murdering rag tag effectively mercenary forces know how to use our legal system well to their advantage.
While some take the position that all religions are rubbish, those who have faith in a religion arrive at that faith through comparative religious analysis. The newspapers in the nineteenth century as newspapers were established, were full of comparative religion. As I taught professional ethics to engineers in the US, we searched for a basis and did comparative religion to see if religion can be a basis for ethics. Answering no, we arrived at commonly agreed human rights as a basis for all peoples. There is always such a subject as comparative religion in a religious studies department going through all the arguments for and against a religion. That is no hate crime. When we practice a religion, we all conclude holding up what we believe and practice, rubbishing what we reject without insulting anyone. The government is making that a crime.
In fact as I broached male attitudes to women in my professional ethics course for engineers and showed the BBC’s “India’s Daughter” on the rape of a young doctor, Indian engineers in class were embarrassed and argued that I should not show the documentary because it was banned in India (out of shame, really). The lesson is that oppressors will use the law and rights-based arguments in a devious manner to advance their oppression.
I see our problem of weakening religious, speech and fundamental rights getting worse. After the collapse of the rupee, foreigners have had their hand strengthened. Money is being thrown at us. All these years Buddhists had a monopoly in buying converts using state money and the percentage Buddhists rose dramatically in Sri Lanka. Now those who gave generously in dollars have money that goes twice as far in Sri Lanka and donations are far less valued. So, Jaffna Central College has been foisted with a swimming pool that remains dirty and unused. At St. James’ Church Nallur, souvenir shirts gifted by donors lie on the ground with white ants feasting. Awash with money, donations were accounted separately and gifts that no one wanted were bought. My wife and I were given towels that we did not want and were left on a settee after we declined the gift.
In Paalaiyootru Trincomalee, Canadian evangelical Churches such as Door of Hope Ministries under one John Bala are expanding. They recently hosted a youth camp illegally paying Rs. 450,000 to two Pentecostal Pastors (Tharmalingam Rames and Reginold Thileepan) to rent them premises but the rent was not given to the organization owning the Premises. Money corrupts.
One pastor Steve is complaining on websites that a Pastor Paulraj of the famous Ambrose family is stealing his sheep by building a church two doors away and blaring prayers to disturb his services and gives Rs. 50,000 to a family from Steve’s parish when a person dies. A family so rewarded thereafter goes to Pastor Paulraj’s church. Steve adds that Paulraj has some 16 churches in the Kinniya area, making one wonder how he delivers 16 sermons on a Sunday morning.
The Government of Sri Lanka with its monopoly until now in buying sheep, but only the weakening rupee for funding, might not be able to compete with dollar funding. That is perhaps why Ranil Wickremesinghe’s government is getting more repressive.