By Laksiri Fernando –
If there is a single act that the Rajapaksa regime has committed in the post-2009 era to abundantly reveal its authoritarian and undemocratic character then that is the arrest and detention of Azath Salley for 90 days under the Prevention of Terrorisms Act (PTA). It also exposes its chauvinistic bias against all minorities strengthening the activities and hate speech of the Sinhala extremists. The act polarizes the society and brings considerable discredit to the country and its people amongst the already disgruntled international community.
If the CID wanted to question him for any speech that he has made then it doesn’t need a period of 90 days. Even if that speech was inflammatory as alleged, he could have been questioned under the normal law without resorting to the draconian PTA. If he was involved in any credible ‘terrorist’ activities as the government propagandists try to portray then he cannot be a lone crusader. No other arrests have been made so far.
Of course there can be lone terrorists in this world but not of the type of Azath Salley. President Rajapaksa should know better than anyone else of his type. Salley was a supporter of the President in the second race to his present position in 2010 and even thereafter. He is of course an outspoken person and it is in this capacity that he was vociferously exposing the hate speech unleashed by the BBS and other organizations. Is that a crime? He must have also become very critical of President Rajapaksa and his family in recent times but that is not a crime at all. And that is the right thing to do. If he has asked the Muslims to defend themselves (not arm) there is nothing wrong in that either given the situation where law enforcement agencies are not protecting them. It is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which says:
“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law…”
Everyone has a constitutional right to know under what charges that he or she is arrested but Azath Salley or his family was not given any explanation. The advisors to the President must be thinking that in the background of the recent Boston bombing in the USA that the international sympathy could be gained for its acolytes’ campaign against Muslims in this country on various pretexts and excuses. That is a very dangerous game to play. If there is any danger to communal peace in the country at present, then that comes from the BBS and other similar organizations. The moderate Ministers in the government, if there is anyone left, should realise that the extremists led by the BBS even wanted to replace this government with a more right-wing and extremist outfit. There are sections in the defence establishment who are working hand and glove with that effort.
Salley should not be kept in secrecy. People in this country have a right to know what is happening behind the scenes. His health and wellbeing are concerns to the family, friends and the public. Salley’s political credentials are well known. He is the leader of the Muslim Tamil National Alliance and a former Deputy Mayor of the Colombo Municipal Council. Whatever he has said and done are in the interests of that party and the people represented by that party. If he has done anything beyond the legitimate limits, he should be charged before the courts without delay but not kept in custody secretively. But it should not be done only against him. Before that, the so-called Ven. Galagoda Aththe Gnanasara should be charged for inciting people against the Muslim community. His speeches and acts are very clear for the whole world to see.
The goon squad supported by the security mafia have been intimidating and harassing innocent Muslim civilians in their day to day lives including young women and children. The reports of these incidents are credible. There were many instances where they were physically attacked. But the law enforcement agencies have been keeping a blind eye on all these incidents. Under the circumstances, it is natural for an outspoken person like Salley to come up with his strongest condemnation not only against the BBS or the government but also the President. The President deserves that condemnation for his silence and perhaps indirect endorsement. The arrest of Salley is part and parcel of that scheme.
Anyone should understand that the danger is not persons like Salley. If the government creates a situation where the Muslim community is unnecessarily intimidated and persecuted, it creates a situation for the global extremists to infiltrate the country. If the Defence Secretary thinks that his security arrangements are watertight and impenetrable, he is badly mistaken. It would be the innocent ordinary civilians of all communities of the Sinhalese, the Tamils and the Muslims who would have to pay the price for the short sighted policies of a self-serving regime. Sri Lanka has just come out of one scourge of terrorism and it is self-destructively inviting a much worse kind to its midst.
Instead of Sri Lanka becoming the much boasted ‘five hubs,’ it will become a ‘hub of real international terrorism’ if the self-destructive policies of the present regime continues. The parochial thinking of the BBS and other Sinhala extremists naturally leads to this end as well. It is the thinking of nothing but the village thugs.
Azath Salley should have his full freedom of expression as far as he does not intimidate others, like the BBS do. He should have the equality before the law and justice. The Muslim community should be able to live without fear and intimidation. Sinhala extremists should not think that they have ‘higher’ or ‘special’ rights or Deva Himikam given by a Deva Raja. It is unfortunate that the National Human Rights Commission is silent on the developments in the recent past and keeps its cosy existence while the country is engulfed with immense human rights issues. The Commission and its members have a moral duty to intervene.
If Azath Salley is kept in CID custody (and this is not even legitimate remand) there is only one meaning to it. That is to torture him at least mentally if not physically to extract a forced confession for crimes that he has not committed. The CID now under the Defence Secretary is acting in that fashion. It is almost a week that Salley has been arrested. That is enough time to investigate what he has said and to determine whether they contravene any law in the country or not. He should be freed Mr President.