By Tisaranee Gunasekara –
“Gobi…… was actively involved in reviving the LTTE through regrouping LTTE cadres and recruiting unemployed local youth with the intention of using them for acts of terrorism. …. The detention….of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen…..were in connection with the aforesaid investigation into attempts to revive the LTTE….” – Sri Lanka’s official statement to the UNHRC[i]
The first arrests came in January 2007. Others followed, in succeeding wavelets. Altogether twenty five Sinhala men were arrested by the TID (Terrorism Investigation Unit) and detained under the PTA.
The accusations levelled at them sounded dastardly in the extreme to most ordinary Sinhala ears. The state said they belonged to an organisation called the ‘Viplavakari Vimukthi Peramuna’ (Revolutionary Liberation Front), a Sinhala counterpart of the LTTE. They had confessed to everything, from obtaining arms-training from the LTTE to planning terrorist attacks in the South. Journalists were shown video clips of these confessions. In one, a detainee said, “About two years ago I went to the LTTE-held area for arms training” [ii].
The military spokesman proclaimed that “6kg of explosives hidden by the suspects were found after the arrests”[iii].
The TID had a truly horrific tale to tell the courts, the first detainees were produced before Colombo Magistrate.
Sinhala Tigers “had received 1.1 million rupees from the LTTE to carry out a massive violence like bomb blasts in the country”
Their plans included “attacks on Kolonnawa oil tanks and Sapugaskanda oil refineries…”
They “….had undergone military training given by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam”.
They “….organised themselves into an organisation called Revolutionary Liberation Movement under the direction of the LTTE.
“The main objective of the organisation was to lure youths with behavioural and personality disorders and to organise them into a militia to attack innocent civilians in the South.”
“The organisation has already carried out 13 operations including several bomb blasts in the South…..”[iv]
It all sounded like the truth and nothing but the truth.
The accusations seemed too horrendous and too detailed to be lies. Why would a responsible organisation like the TID concoct such a story? Would the police commit a crime by lying to the courts? Would a patriotic government arrest Sinhalese, unless these Sinhalese really were Tiger-pawns?
The South believed.
The arrests continued. Intermittently, the authorities released more lurid details. For instance, in 2008 the Sinhala Tigers were accused of “….at least two bus bombings, assassination of Minister DM Dassanayake, transportation of explosives and firearms to Colombo, providing cover for black tigers and various other smaller incidents…”[v]
When rights activists claimed that the confessions were obtained under torture, the authorities were shocked; “Police do not torture detainees”[vi], the head of the CID said.
No one sniggered.
Since the regime had so much information, and in such excruciating detail, about Sinhala Tigers, it was logical to expect that they would be indicted forthwith. But for two years not a single Sinhala Tiger was charged. The men continued to be detained under the PTA; the regime continued to make periodic accusations.
Eventually, some detainees filed fundamental rights cases in the Supreme Court. In February 2009, the AG informed the court that no charges will be filed against ten of the detainees. The court ordered their immediate release and gave the AG a month to indict the rest.
The month passed; no charges were filed. In March, the Supreme Court gave the AG another month, either to charge or to release the detainees[vii].
Eventually not a single ‘Sinhala Tiger’ was charged in a court of law of even a minor misdemeanour let alone the heinous crimes they were periodically accused of by the state.
So the explosive tale of Sinhala Tigers turned out to be not even a damp squib.
The state’s failure to charge a single detainee proved beyond any doubt that the authorities lied to the country and to the courts. The entire tale was a fabrication from beginning to end, concocted by the state. The confessions were made under duress, including torture.
By later 2006, the Rajapaksa tendency to use the war to impose economic hardships on ordinary Lankans, while enjoying the good life at national expense, was becoming clear. The trade union movement was beginning to express dissatisfaction about this obvious hypocrisy. The regime needed to nip any possible Southern dissent in the bud. The ‘Sinhala Tiger’ fabrication was used to target the Railway workers union and to frighten the other unions.
That tale of Sinhala Tigers is particularly germane today, with the regime officially informing the UNHRC that the Tiger is reborn.
Ruki Fernando, Father Praveen and the Rajapaksa-need for Silence
The very first ‘Sinhala Tigers’ were activists handling the Railway union’s paper, ‘Akuna’.
That was no coincidence.
Impunity needs silence. That is why the Rajapaksas are viscerally opposed to a right to information act, why they are cowing/co-opting the national media and blocking dissenting websites.
That was why Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen were arrested.
The police spokesman accused Mr. Fernando and Fr. Praveen of ‘Selling information abroad’[viii]. According to Mr. Fernando, “I was repeatedly asked who in Geneva, who outside Sri Lanka was I sharing information with. It seemed very clear that they took great care for other nations not to hear any alternative information or perspective from within Sri Lanka.”[ix]
The Amnesty International says that “Sri Lankan intelligence forces may have created a special unit to monitor those suspected of conveying information to the UN”[x].
The Rajapaksas cannot strengthen familial rule without killing dissent. They need to use targeted repression against a range of dissenters, from Tamil mothers looking for their disappeared children to Sinhala villagers protesting against environmental damages caused by factories belonging to Rajapaksa-acolytes. Blocking flows of information is necessary to create an enabling environment for these acts of repression.
If media outlets did not tell the truth, the regime’s lies about Weliweriya would have gone unchallenged.
This week, the President repeated his charge that ‘saboteurs’ are trying to “create problems in the country by closing down factories and inciting school children” and that this “cannot be allowed under any circumstances”[xi]. The accidental death of Borella OIC is being used to suppress the truth about the Hanwella-protest and the Dhammika Perera-owned-factory which caused it. Exposes and criticisms must end, for these half truths/lies to take wing.
The arrest of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen makes sense in this context. They went to Killinochchi to discover what actually happened to Jeyakumari Balendran. They tried to uncover a truth which Rajapaksas want hidden. By doing so they crossed a Rajapaksas ne plus ultra. Had it not been for the Geneva vote, they may have ended up sharing the fate of ‘Sinhala Tigers’ of 2007.
Once Geneva ends, and if the world puts Lanka on backburner until the next UNHRC session, Jeyakumari Balendran will remain incarcerated. And other ‘Tigers’, Tamil, Sinhala and Muslim, will find themselves detained under the PTA, accused of luridly explicit terroristic-crimes and jailed sans charges.
Thus the state will be free to lie about terrorists/coups and BBS-types to sow ethno-religious discord. In that information-starved, politico-psychologically fractured and phobic land, Rajapaksas will rule.