By Mangala Samaraweera –
We were gravely disturbed to learn of the arrest of former Deputy mayor of Colombo and Muslim Tamil National Alliance leader Azath Salley by the CID on May 2nd 2013.
This is yet another blatant manifestation of the depths to which the rule of law has sunk in this country and further proof that even as the Government prepares to host the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Colombo in a few months, it is simultaneously taking steps to suppress dissent and victimise political opponents in a manner that runs directly contrary to the fundamental tenets of democracy.
Mr. Salley has been arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, a draconian piece of legislation whose provisions to detain suspects without trial for 180 days, and has no place in a country that is no longer fighting terrorism. Mr. Salley’s purported to be the incitement of communal hatred, for a newspaper interview in which he warned of the dire consequences of fanning the flames of ethnic and religious hatred.
It is strange that the PTA provisions permitting law enforcement to take into custody those who threaten strife between communities were never used to arrest the thugs who attacked a Muslim owned enterprise in Pepiliyana in March. Or that they were not used to arrest those extremist elements that forced the police to disperse a peaceful anti-hate vigil in April. It is baffling that these provisions are not being used to take action against the devastating reports of assaults on Muslim places of worship and women wearing the Muslim headdress.
There is no rationale in the authorities continuing to permit rallies filled with hate speech against the Muslim community and their way of life to take place in every major town in this country. Mr. Salley’s arrest, ironically called for repeatedly by hate groups afforded significant state patronage, makes it clear that the Government deals its justice by two yardsticks, one for the majority community, which can spout invective against other religions and ethnic groups freely and another for minorities who dare to issue warnings about the dangerous turn Sri Lanka is taking. His arrest is another clear indication of where the regime truly stands when it comes to ending racism and hatred.
Mr. Salley, has in these recently troubled times, been a courageous voice against the majoritarian racist elements that are threatening the re-emergence of ethnic and religious conflict in our country. If it is the regime’s answer to arrest Mr. Salley for warning against the dangers of this hate campaign, then perhaps each of us who also denounce the extremist campaigns of hate against Sri Lanka’s Muslim community must all be arrested for believing in a pluralistic society in which every Sri Lankan, irrespective of race, religion or caste, must be treated as equal citizens. If opposing hate is a crime, then we are all criminals today.
Last week, following the end of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting in London, Commonwealth Secretary General told reporters there that Sri Lanka’s rule of law situation and its judicial reform would be taking a turn for the better within a matter of weeks, instead of months. He told journalists that he had received assurances of these changes by the highest echelons of the ruling Government in Colombo. It is deeply ironic that those remarks came on the same day that Sri Lanka witnessed the tragi-comic drama of the miraculous recovery of a murder suspect and Government Parliamentarian, who was supposedly so sick he could not attend court after spending over an year overseas receiving treatment, march out of hospital and straight to the Presidential Palace to be ‘blessed’, apparently in the pink of health.
The Secretary General’s words seem more ironic still, in light of the fate that has befallen Mr. Salley.
The Government has shown its true face towards the minorities and its commitment to ending hate and strife in this country.
This is the justice Sri Lanka’s ruling regime knows.
This is the democracy and reconciliation that the next CHOGM host seeks to showcase before the world come November.
We do indeed live in a land like no other.