Public Security Minister Sarath Weerasekera has issued a direct threat against lawmaker Anura Kumara Dissanayake when he claimed that the JVP Leader would soon see if the government was firing “blanks” or “live bullets”.
Soon afterwards, Dissanayake recognized the threat but shot back that Weerasekera’s threats did not scare him.
The spat began when the JVP Leader accused the Government of ‘firing blanks’ to distract the public when the country was in the throes of crisis. These were ‘puswedili’ to keep the people preoccupied and distracted from their daily woes, Dissanayake claimed, referring to the announcement that the slaughter of cattle would be banned, or that all young people would have to undergo two years of mandatory military training. “Rather than confront the issues facing country, they make these grand statements that the media laps up, only to walk it back a few days later,” Dissanayake charged at a rally a few days ago.
The remarks reportedly incensed the menacing Public Security Minister, a retired Rear Admiral of the Sri Lanka Navy. Weerasekera said the JVP would soon face the music for putting the father of two Easter Sunday bombers on its national list for Parliament. “Very soon Anura Kumara Dissanayake will see whether these are “puswedili” or live bullets,” Weerasekera threatened.
The intimidation comes in the wake of similar remarks by Avant Garde Chairman and Presidential crony, Nissanka Senadhipathi. Senadhipathi who is a former major in the Commando unit of the Sri Lanka Army, said that if the smear campaign against his company continued, he would not be able to “control” some 6000 emotional ex-soldiers he had employed.
In an interview this week Senadhipathi issued the warning to SJB politico Asoka Abeysinghe and JVP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake that the patience of “his people” should not be tested unduly. Abeysinghe was recently interrogated by the CID for making statements to the effect that Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa had been behind the Easter Sunday bombings in 2019. Abeysinghe said the Avant Garde chairman had financed the plot that killed 269 people.
Senadhipathi said Abeysinghe had been trying to incite a riot in the country.
Senadhipathi claimed that he had “stopped” his people from reacting to Abeysinghe’s remarks with great difficulty.
His soldiers, the Avant Garde Chairman said, were “very emotional people”.
Senadhipathi: Asoka Abeysinghe and co should remember that my people’s patience cannot be tested beyond their limits. It is with the greatest difficulty that I stopped them from doing something.
Interviewer: Who are these ‘people’?
Senadhipathi: My people. The army soldiers who work for me. I employ more than 6000 former soldiers. People should not test their limits. When the former government was in power they lost their livelihoods because of this slanderous campaign (against Avant Garde). If this slander begins again under this government too, I will be powerless to stop them. I am telling Anura Kumara Dissnayake this too. Do not insult these people, they are very emotional people they just want to be left alone. There is a limit to our patience.
Describing the JVP as a plague upon the country, Senadhipathi vowed to reduce the party’s polling percentage down to zero in the next election. “Not even one of them will enter parliament – mark my words,” the Avant Garde Chairman said. He said he was willing to spend his entire fortune to make this a reality.
Senadhipathi’s threat has dangerous undertones and deep historical context.
The idea that “people” would rise up to avenge beloved leaders has been repeatedly floated by the Rajapaksa administration in the past. Brutal consequences have almost always followed.
In June 2008, then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa summoned two Lake House journalists Poddala Jayantha and Sanath Balasuriya to his office, after they participated in protests about ongoing media suppression. The meeting took place a month after journalist Keith Noyahr was abducted and assaulted. The defence secretary’s summons pertained to a complaint made by then Army Chief Sarath Fonseka who was irked that Balasuriya and Jayantha had been among those at the protest who cast aspersions against the government’s war effort. Both Balasuriya and Jayantha were members of the Working Journalists’ Association. The Defence Secretary told the two journalists that they had no right to participate in protests as Lake House employees and said criticism of the military leadership, particularly Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, and the conduct of the war would not be tolerated.
The Defence Secretary then warned the journalists: “There are large numbers of military personnel who ‘revered Fonseka like a God,’ and that I cannot control these people. Don’t come and cry to me if something happens to you.”
Less than one year later, Jayantha was abducted, brutally tortured and dumped on the side of a road. Both Jayantha and Balasuriya eventually fled the country.
In 2010, then Defence Secretary used the same tactic on then Sunday Leader Editor Frederica Jansz when the journalist questioned him about a puppy he was air couriering to Colombo for his wife. A frothing and foul-mouthed Rajapaksa told Jansz the “people will kill you”.
The exchange follows:
GR: But I will put you in jail! You shit journalist trying to split this country – trying to show otherwise from true Sinhala Buddhists!! You are helped by the US Ambassador, NGOs and Paikiasothy – they pay you!!!
FJ: I wish.
GR: You pig that eats shit!!! You shit shit dirty f…..g journalist!!!
FJ: I hope you can hear yourself Mr. Rajapaksa.
GR: People will kill you!!! People hate you!!! They will kill you!!!
FJ: On your directive?
GR: What?? No. Not mine. But they will kill you – you dirty f…..g shit journalist.
A series of threatening incidents followed and Jansz was forced to leave Sri Lanka soon afterwards.
Making the argument that the “people”, angered by the slights against their dear leaders rise will attack those that dare to criticize and slander, allows the principals to escape blame for violence that follows. The strategy is a key part of the Rajapaksa Government’s brutal playbook.
Senadhipathi’s threat about his “people” – a force of 6000 former military personnel trained to kill – resorting to “uncontrollable” behaviour coupled with Weerasekera’s threat of “live bullets” place Anura Kumara Dissanayake directly in the regime’s crosshairs, said political observers who expressed alarm about the ratcheting up of intimidating rhetoric by key members of the Rajapaksa regime.
It is incumbent upon the Speaker of Parliament and the Government to ensure the protection of an opposition parliamentarian exercising his democratic right to dissent and criticize the ruling party and its policies, political analysts insisted. Dissanayake is currently the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government’s fiercest and most fearless critic, the analysts said. They added: “If any harm should come to Dissanayake, it will drive criticism and dissent to the ground in Sri Lanka. All of the opposition needs to rally to demand that the Government ceases these threats and takes steps to ensure the security of even those who are their biggest detractors”.