By Rohan Jayasekera –
Karl Marx said that history repeats itself, once as tragedy, twice as farce. How about three times, as an even more farcical share on Facebook?
How else to describe the spectacle of Gotabaya Rajapaksa using the social network to share a link to the Colombo Telegraph, the very website that he and his brother worked so hard to censor when in power? ‘Liking’ the share hardly seems right – though 769 people so far have, and 183 more have shared it on.
The Rajapaksa brothers’ time in power saw Sri Lankan free speech traduced by a proxy war on the independent media. It included the murder of Sunday Leader editor and International Press Institute (IPI) World Press Freedom Hero, Lasantha Wickrematunge, and the ‘disappearance’ of news cartoonist Pregeeth Ekneligoda.
As the IPI itself put it in a statement this week: “Press freedom was widely seen to have suffered catastrophically under (President) Rajapaksa, whose tenure became increasingly mired in allegations of war crimes and corruption. Journalists frequently faced violence and exile, and impunity for crimes against the press became, by all accounts, a tragic norm.”
Censorship of the website Gotabaya now ‘shares’ was just one part of that assault on free expression. Sri Lanka’s Telecom Regulatory Commission was ordered to instruct service providers to block the Colombo Telegraph and other critical websites, warning the providers to blame censorship on ‘technical’ problems.”
What did the Colombo Telegraph do this week to warrant Gotabaya’s change of mood and earn his official Facebook ‘like’? It merely reported the ramblings of the former defence secretary on the steps of a local court.
This included his bizarre claim that the Yahapalanaya ‘good governance’ regime introduced by his brother’s successor “is much worst than of even Hitler’s rule (sic)”. Yes, that’s Adolf Hitler, the Nazi leader.
President Maithripala Sirisena’s government is guilty of more than a few sins, not least its own slack response to covert censorship of the Colombo Telegraph. But it hardly outpaces Hitler’s start of a war that claimed the lives of 55 million people including the genocidal murder of six million Jews.
Right up there with the Holocaust, in Gotobaya’s warped mindset, as told to reporters outside Kaduwela Magistrates’ Court; the remanding of his nephew, Yoshitha Rajapaksa, along with four others, on charges of alleged financial “irregularities” at the Carlton Sports Network.
It will probably never come to pass, but I wonder if we will ever see Gotabaya ‘share’ a Colombo Telegraph report maybe yet to come? That of another remand? Of him and his brother – and more than a few LTTE leaders – brought to account for their alleged part in abuses committed by both sides during the war, as documented by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights?
Or see Gotabaya ‘share’ a Colombo Telegraph report of charges based on investigations into the brothers’ alleged leadership role in attacks on media houses, including the Wickrematunge and Eknaligoda cases – investigations now reported to be “at a virtual standstill”? Or the trial of the men behind the terroristic ‘white van’ abductions after their victory over the LTTE, which denied the country the peace it deserved after the war itself was concluded?
Probably not. But seeing Colombo Telegraph reports like that shared on a Rajapaksa ‘official’ Facebook page would be sure to get a fair number of ‘likes’.
*Rohan Jayasekera is an English journalist and former deputy CEO of Index on Censorship in London. He writes here in a personal capacity.