UNP Lawmaker Eran Wickremaratne last night raised serious questions about the silence of professionals as the Government engaged in witch-hunts against their peers in a hard hitting speech in Parliament about the political transfers of police personnel and the attempts to frame journalists and media professionals for faking the abduction of Swiss Embassy Staffer Garnier Francis.
The Government was pushing the line that the abduction of a Swiss embassy worker was fabricated by three professionals – all of them people who have refused to bow down to threats and intimidation, Wickremaratne told Parliament, using time during the debate on the Airbus corruption scandal.
“The CID and the Government wants us to believe that former Sunday Observer Editor and New York Times journalist Dharisha Bastians former CID Director Shani Abeysekera and former Lake House and Hilton Chairman Krishantha Cooray a former working committee member of the UNP all got together to mastermind this fictitious abduction,” Wickremaratne explained. “They didn’t stop there. They went after the telephone records of Dharisha Bastians, Krishantha Cooray – a well known media personality – using the excuse of a criminal investigation.”
“They have said that without a shred of evidence, simply to frame them, because they did not bow to threats and intimidation,” he said during a speech in Parliament.
Blasting the CID for going into the phone records of Bastians and Cooray, Wickremaratne sought to remind the House that Sri Lanka was not a military state. “They are checking on Dharisha Bastians phone records to check whether she has made calls to the CID. She is a journalist. How can journalists practice their profession if their phone records are checked by the CID at their whim and fancy?” the UNP MP charged.
Wickremaratne emphasized that the CID must get a court order in order to go into a citizen’s phone details.
There was no doubt that the investigation was a witch-hunt, Wickremaratne said because the Government was also going after Bastians’ spouse, who was a career diplomat with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“He was sent to Geneva two years ago – now they want to put pressure on his wife, so he has been summarily recalled without explanation and without any replacement being named. In doing so, the Government has violated Gihan Indraguptha’s fundamental rights and legitimate expectations as a career civil servant. But they are also flouting an ancient foundational principle that underpins every decent system of law in the world. – it is not a UNP policy or a pohottuwa policy – that individuals should never be punished for things that they have not done,” the UNP MP said.
Wickremaratne slammed the media for remaining silent in the face of this persecution of a journalist and her family and the Police Commission for failing to stand up for police officers like Shani Abeysekera and CI Nihal Francis who led the MiG deal investigation. He also criticized the Bar Association of Sri Lanka and its President for its failure to stand up for an attorney at law who was recently grilled by the CID.
“It is not just that the Government is targeting and persecuting professionals. That is the lesser crime. The greater crime is this – that the peers of the persecuted have stood silently and not come to the defence of their comrades,” he emphasized.
“There was a time in Sri Lanka when the Government going after a journalist was enough to provoke an outcry in the media, through editorials and condemnation. I would like to ask the journalists: Are you unprincipled, or are you scared? “
Wickremaratne said not a single editorial had been written in newspapers about this witch hunt that is going on.
“There was a time when the NPC and the IGP would have stood firm against politically motivated transfers and defended honest police officers who were persecuted for doing their job,” he said.
Wickremaratne’s speech also referred to Anurangi Singh, a lawyer and journalist attached to the Sunday Observer was interrogated by the CID on February 10th about her contacts and telephone calls and for information about Bastians who was her former Editor.
“There was a time when the Bar Association of Sri Lanka would have risen up in arms if the Government got the CID to summon an attorney at law and to grill her about confidential information and journalistic sources. I would ask the President of BASL – don’t you care about what is happening?” the UNP MP charged.
He reminded the Government that during the five years that the Yahapalanaya regime had been in power, the head of the CID had never changed. “Our Government only had one CID head, who was appointed in 2012 under President Mahinda Rajapaksa. That person, DIG Ravi Seneviratne retired in 2019, under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa,” Wickremaratne recalled.
“Professionals whoever they are must be protected and allowed to do their jobs” he reiterated.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa however was going in a different direction, he noted. “When Gotabaya Rajapaksa assumed duties on the 19th of November, the very next day he transferred CID Director Shani Abeysekera, demoted him and sent him as a personal assistant to Galle,” he reminded the House.
“Police officials must stand up for their persecuted colleagues like Shani Abeysekera and Nihal Francis. Journalists must speak out against the pathetic attempts to frame people like Dharisha Bastians for an abduction merely because she made a telephone call. Career diplomats must stand in solidarity with Gihan Indraguptha who is being punished through no fault of his own. Lawyers and the BASL must object to the harassment and interrogation of Anurangi Singh by the CID and the judiciary and stand guard against any attempt to persecute Ranga Dissanayake for having the courage to stand tall,” Wickremaratne charged.
He added that former Lake House Chairman Krishantha Cooray was a “capable and committed” man. “He loves this country and has made huge sacrifices for it. Anyone who knows him well will agree with me that he is actually incapable of doing anything illegal or immoral. As a country, whatever party we belong to, we have a duty to protect people like him,” the UNP MP insisted. (By Chinthika De Silva)