19 October, 2021

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Society Has A Duty Not To Abandon Shani Abeysekera

By Ahimsa Wickrematunge

I would like to thank Journalists for Social Justice for inviting me to speak at this solemn occasion.

We are here today to remember the fallen heroes of a war against freedom of speech, waged by tyrants whose greatest fear is that journalists and activists would expose their emptiness to the people they lead.

This war should never have been waged in a just and decent country whose Constitution guarantees every citizen the freedom of speech.

At first, it was the LTTE terrorists who began the practice of killing anyone who spoke out against them.

Sadly, many of those who pledged to defeat the Tigers could not resist the allure of using LTTE terror tactics to silence journalists who criticized them.

From the murder of Richard de Zoysa in 1990 to the killing of my father in two thousand and nine and the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda eleven years ago, far too many journalists have been killed by abusing the machinery of the Sri Lankan state.

To borrow a phrase, they were killed like dogs.

Shortly before his death, my father wrote that murder had become the primary tool by which the state sought to control the organs of liberty. That was true in 2009.

But now, in 2021, after so many people have already disappeared, been killed or tortured, or arrested on false charges, now fear has become the primary tool used to strangle our organs of liberty.

In Sri Lanka, everyone is made to fear that if they say one word that those in power do not want to hear, they will be punished.

If a foreign embassy helps an honest police officer to escape certain death, they must fear that their staff could be abducted and tortured.

Then if they complain to the police, they must fear that their employees could be arrested and prosecuted.

If a lawyer campaigns against forced cremations, he must fear being locked up and called a terrorist.

If a TV station exposes a corrupt scam to import antigen test kits, they must fear being gagged.

If a Muslim MP refuses to vote for a draconian law, he must fear being arrested and called a terrorist.

Parliamentarians who criticize the government do so knowing full well that the regime has protected and brought to Parliament people accused of murdering MPs in cold blood.

MPs who still speak out are reminded that they too can be killed, like dogs.

And If a Sri Lankan journalist even thinks about openly criticizing those in power, she is vividly reminded of what happened to those brave journalists whom we are honoring here today.

Now that governing through terror has received an overwhelming mandate, it is up to us as civil society to break the cycle of fear. This cycle must be broken.

There must come a time when ordinary Sri Lankans need not live in fear.

There must come a time when those who live in fear are those who try to silence us through abduction, arrest, torture, murder and disappearance.

These criminals will never be afraid for as long as their own blood-soaked hands are wrapped around the wheels of justice.

They will only know fear when justice takes the side of the victims whom we honour today.

This is why I dedicate these remarks not just to those who we have lost, but also to those who risked their lives to help turn the wheels of justice and seek accountability for the slaughter of journalists.

We only know what happened to my father Lasantha Wickrematunge to Prageeth Ekneligoda, Keith Noyahr, Upali Tennakoon, Poddala Jayantha, Nandaraja Raviraj and Joseph Pararajasingham and to so many others thanks to the fearless investigations conducted by CID officers like Nishantha Silva and Shani Abeysekera.

But because of their valour, they have lost everything.

Today, these exceptional police officers have been abandoned and left to suffer, all because they had the courage to be our heroes.

Nishantha, his wife and three daughters, all had to flee the only country they ever knew or loved.

Now they must suffer harsh, lonely winters in a foreign land whose language is alien to them.

Shani was handcuffed in front of his wife and children and dragged to jail.

Even when he suffered a heart attack, his captors tried to stop him from getting medical care.

We must stand with Nishantha, Shani, and their fellow officers.

We must not let them be punished for investigating the murders of journalists.

Any one of us could be the next victim. Unless we safeguard police officers who have the courage to investigate atrocities, there will be no honest police officers left to investigate when one of us is killed for speaking out.

For many years after my father, Prageeth Ekneligoda and others were killed, we gathered at vigils, lit candles, and prayed for justice.

Very few people had the courage to answer our prayers.

It is our duty to stand up for those few people who did, especially when they need us the most.

*Speech made at the event organised by Journalists for Social yesterday to commemorate fallen journalists.

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Latest comments

  • 2
    21

    “There must come a time when ordinary Sri Lankans need not live in fear.”

    For three decades people in Sri Lanka lived in fear when LTTE Tamil terrorists slaughtered innocent civilians using claymore bombs, suicide bombers and chemical weapons. Tamil mothers lived in fear thinking that LTTE Tamil terrorists might snatch their children and recruit as child soldiers. Thanks to Rajapakshes who gave the leadership to eliminate LTTE Tamil terrorists people in Sri Lanka lived without fear and in peace until Muslim terrorists blew up Churches and hotels and brought fear back into the minds of people. That situation occurred due to stupidity of ‘Jadapalana’ dong keys who had all the information about the attacks and failed to prevent. Right now law abiding citizens in Sri Lanka live without fear thanks to President Rajapakse who has given top priority to security.

  • 1
    19

    Ahimsa,
    I told you several times to check the statement made by Ranil Wickramasinghe in the Parliament regarding the disappearance of your father to find out who is responsible. Instead of doing that you have become a pawn of anti-Gotabhaya Rajapakshe crooks.

  • 9
    0

    Only someone who has felt the pain, and knows there has been no justice for the brutal assassination of someone so loved, a father, can make such a heartfelt statement.

    These crimes were committed by those afraid that their crimes, corruption, and anti democratic policies, will be brought into focus, and that ignorant citizens, might get informed and turn against them. There is no justification for any of the above crimes.
    It is unfortunate that, many who voted for these criminals, knew they are capable of these crimes, and more, yet closed their minds, some stay in denial, and wanted more of the same. The Buddhists should be offended that this criminal enterprise have put aside their teachings of compassion, tolerance, and peace, and brutally killed journalists, activists, even a sportsman, and keep pandering to extremist Buddhists in saffron robes, and the minorities should be offended that this lot have consistently pushed their policies of racism, and discrimination. Why do we have to live in fear of being unjustly arrested, threatened, discriminated, or killed, when we stand up for what we think is right? Why have we settled for a dictatorship or autocratic style of governance? We can do better than this.

    • 2
      5

      Ashan,
      Tamil hypocrites who shed crocodile tears for Ahimsa do not shed tears for hundreds of Tamil mothers and fathers killed by LTTE Tamil terrorists, hundreds of Tamil children killed by forcibly recruiting them as combatants and sending to the front line.

  • 12
    5

    “At first, it was the LTTE terrorists who began the practice of killing anyone who spoke out against them.”
    Ahimsa,
    You may be an ignorant like many other young Sinhalese why and how LTTE evolved in Srilanka. Have you heard about the massacre or killing of innocent Tamils in Colombo and up country by the Sinhala extremists including Monks with the protection of Sinhala military in 1958. LTTE was not a terrorist organisation, they had political aspirations to liberate Tamils from Oppressive regimes in Sri Lanka. Of course LTTE and other militant groups may have fought each other and killed a few for political reasons. But your father was murdered for writing about corruption by the regime in the interest of the country and people. Unfortunately, 69 million wanted the country to be ruled by those who murdered your father and any other journalists, human rights activists (majority Tamils) and massacre of over 40000 Tamil civilians.
    It is not only you thousands and thousands of people (Tamil and Sinhala) are denied justice in this country.

    • 10
      2

      Ajith
      None of the justifications for the emergence of the LTTE can in any way justify the LTTE’s intolerance towards rival organizations and dissenting views.
      Tamils can do with a little self-criticism I suppose.
      *
      Ahimsa is taking up the cause of her father the way Sandya Eknaligoda has done for her husband.
      Both cases have much more than personal interest. The victims stood for things important during critical periods.
      One cannot belittle their courageous battles against injustice by glib reference to the large number of other victims.
      Every unjust detention, disappearance and killing is important. Individual protests are as valuable collective protests. Some individuals stand out as symbols around whom a strong call for justice can be built.
      *
      There are among others important social activists, brave journalists and personalities that the high and mighty feared. Rather than throw cold water on the few sustained campaigns, why do we not ask why it has not been possible to build sustained protests around individuals or groups of victims.
      The Mothers’ Front in Jaffna in the 1990s was remarkable in that respect..
      *
      Not having the heart to stand up for Shani’s is no crime; but to belittle or discourage calls for justice for a person who is persecuted for being a threat to vested interests is to side with the persecutors.

      • 7
        2

        SJ,
        My point is here that it is not relevant to start her speech with LTTE. Terrorism in Srilanka started from state. I am not going to defend or argue for LTTE here because the case completely irrelevant.

        • 4
          0

          Don’t you think that she was dead right to say: “At first, it was the LTTE terrorists who began the practice of killing anyone who spoke out against them.”?
          *
          There have been several instances when selected individuals were targetted by people in power.
          But the LTTE was notorious from its very early days, as the biggest suppressor of dissent and rivalry among the Tamil militants. It targetted and killed many times more Tamil civilians than Sinhalese civilians.
          Please correct me if I am wrong.
          *
          If your objection was to her starting her talk with the specific comment, you could have made that point and even defended the LTTE.
          You went on to accuse and attack all and sundry.
          It was at best childish, and that was the basis of my objection.

    • 1
      4

      Ajith
      There are typos in your comment. Too many zeros in numbers. Contact CT editor for correction.

      Soma

      • 1
        1

        Soma’palan’ your whole life is a typo.

    • 0
      2

      Ajith,
      I told you this several times but for some strange reason that does not get registered in your brain.
      Tamil-Sinhala conflict in 1958 was started by Tamils (Demala) attacking Sinhalayo in Yapanaya. I am telling this based on information gathered from a family that lived in Yapanaya and two Sinhala men from Matara who operated bakeries in Yapanaya. That family was originally from Moratuwa, moved to Yapanaya and operated a boat manufacturing industry. I have the original Birth Certificate of a family member born on 14 June 1947 in Yapanaya written in Tamil. Their boat manufacturing plant was burnt down by Tamil thugs. They were rescued by Army and brought to Anuradhapura where SWRD Bandaranayake met them ant told not to tell what happened in Yapanaya to Sinhalayo.
      You guys are trying to mislead the International Community by bombarding blatant lies.

      • 3
        0

        EE
        You are being very untruthful if not badly ill informed to say “Tamil-Sinhala conflict in 1958 was started by Tamils (Demala) attacking Sinhalayo in Yapanaya.”
        *
        Can you give dates?
        *
        It was a rumor about an attack on a Sinhalese person by a Tamil (NOT IN JAFFNA) that was used to launch the attack on Tamils, which was already well planned.
        There was violent response to the ’58 attach on Tamils. In fairness to the FP, it denounced all such attacks and appealed for calm.
        Kindly read Tarzie Vittachi on the subject, if you had not in your younger days.

  • 6
    0

    Ashan: Well said. It is not an easy task to stand against a “Militarized Dictatorship” that 6.9 million voters brought to power. That “Sinhala/Buddagama” voter led by the “Saffron Clad Brigade” (Niganta Nikayas) is still playing a “Street Drama” to hoodwink the “Gullible” voter. Recently you saw how a “2/3rd” “Majority was “Created” to pass the “20A” in the midst of “Concocted” protest “Staged” by this “Brigade”. See what is going on in the case of the “East Terminal” struggle. There too, this “Saffron Clad” has “Infiltrated”, I know they are handsomely “oiled” by the “Rajapakse & Co.” Surprisingly, the American Ambassador too, has joined the fray, in support of the “GR’s” move. Then there are “Media Coolies” and it is already a “MAFIA”. So it is not that easy to stand against the already “Militarized Regime”, so far has the “support” of the “Gullible” majority. So far there is a “SLIGHT TWIST” but not “Appreciable”. A better way would be to “PUSH” these vagabonds to the wall, by means of “ISOLATION” by the International Community and that would be a much wanted “DUTY” by the People and the Country.

  • 1
    0

    Does Shani have a lawyer/lawyers, perhaps working pro bono? If not pro bono, his family will be bankrupt. Could a fund be established to support his legal battles?

  • 0
    5

    Ahimsa Wickrematunge,
    You’ll always have my sympathy. Do not lose my sympathy by writing or speaking in a hurry.
    Your stance, ‘At first, it was the LTTE terrorists who began the practice of killing anyone who spoke out against them’, is unnecessary, wrong, and ill chosen.
    You don’t seem to have all the information necessary to pass judgement on LTTE.

  • 2
    0

    What is Ranil Wickramesinhe and Sajith Premadasa dong?

    Society has done their duty and sent these people to parliament please ask RW and SP to ask the right questions at the right time and protect the constitution and democracy.

    Ranjan Ramanayake had to serve a 4 year prison sentance because of the lak of leadership in the UNP / SJB.

  • 3
    0

    How do I contact her

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