In Colombo, the air is thick with anger. Defeated in Geneva, at the Human Rights Council, the government is on the offensive. State controlled media have modelled themselves after notorious Rwandan hate radio, RTLM, that whipped up racial animosity, prologue to the Rwandan genocide.
Some private media commentators have followed suit. They, of course, have a following (just like the Rwandan hate radio did.) And the state television has described journalists as traitors and accused them of “betraying the motherland.” The government ministers and their followers are heaping scorn on the critics of the government, and even more, they issue death threats against government critics at public rallies. One minister, Mervin Silva, even took the liberty to claim responsibility for a previous attack on the exiled journalist, Poddala Jayantha, the former president of the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, who was abducted and had both his legs broken by his abductors.
Mervin claims responsibility
Here is what Minister Mervin Silva said on Friday at a rally held in Kiribathgoda against the HRC vote:
Eye chandaya thibuna. Mama isthuthiwantha wenawa sisyaluma madyayata. Sajewiwa mama peya ganan beluwa. Suddange muhunu eta kehel gilapu uguduwo wage. Apita 15, unta 24, hoda kathawal karala chandaya deemen welakila hitiya ata denek. Pahaloway atai visi thunai. Para sudda eka chandayakin thamai oluwa issuwe. Obama methi thumani natapu netumakuth ne, bere paluwakuth ne. Namuth mama kanagatuwenawa, ape rate pekaniwela kapapu paharayo, Sunanda Deshapriya, Nimalka Fernandola, kawda? (quizzes from his supporters) Poddala Jayantha! Poddala Jayantha kiyanne, u Lankawen, mama elewwe. Ada prasiddiye kiyanne. U giye mama nisa. Thawa ekek innawa, Pakiasothy, unthamai Geneva gihilla, me ratata viruddawa sakki dunne. Prasiddiye kiyanne, meka danna, thopi mata ahuuwenna lankawe hitiyoth, thope atha paya prasiddiye kadana eka thampai Mervin Silva kiyanne. Wagakimak ethuwai kiyanne.
The English translation is as follows:
‘The vote was held yesterday. I thank all the media. I watched it live for hours. White men’s faces were like constipated polecats. They got 24 votes, we got 15. Eight abstained, after making good speeches. Fifteen plus eight is twenty three. Para Sudda raised his head only by one extra vote. Mr. Obama! There was no dance, but half of the drum is torn as well. But I am saddened that the paharayas who had cut their umbilical cord in this country, like Sundanda Deshapriya, Nimalka Fernando and Poddala Jayantha – I chased away Poddala Jayantha, I am saying so in public today. He went because of me. There was another: Paikiasothy. They were the ones who went to Geneva and gave evidence against this country. I am telling this in public, publish this. If you get caught to me in Sri Lanka, I will break your limbs in public. I am telling this with responsibility.’
Both legs of Poddala Jayantha were broken by his abductors; an act Mervin Silva now claims responsibility for. Silva has been accused of a string of attacks against the media including mysterious attacks on SLRC employees after he was forced to make a humiliating exit when he stormed the government controlled Rupavahini Corporation in December 2007, and assaulted its news editor.
Speaking at the rally on Friday he had no qualms when he began to crow about the presidential patronage he enjoys, despite the fact that he had been accused by his own party members from the Kelaniya Pradeshiya Sabha of operating a extortion ring and swindling millions of rupess from public funds.
“ I can tell you with confidence that the ministerial post His Excellency the President gave me would not change as long as he is on the throne,” Silva declared to the cheering of his goons.
Growing intolerance and an increasing number of threats issued against the rights activists had prompted the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, to issue a media statement asking an end to ‘reprisal.’
Patriotism is the last resort of the scoundrel. No where would that old adage credited to Samuel Johnson be truer than contemporary Sri Lanka.
And Sri Lanka is at the peril of exploding into a racial conflagration, courtesy the heavy dose of jathi alaya (‘national patriotism’) injected into the public. In fact, diplomatic sources say that India feared attacks on Tamil property in Colombo after the Human Rights Council vote.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Karunanidhi had written to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, warning of possible reprisal attacks against Tamils in Sri Lanka.
“News reaching here indicates that there is widespread apprehension among Sri Lankan Tamils about possible attacks on them in view of the UN resolution. I request you to kindly prevent all such undesirable developments through your diplomatic channels,” Karunanidhi requested in a letter addressed to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
There is also potential danger that India’s support to the Human Rights Resolution could be exploited by ultra nationalists in Colombo to reignite anti Indian sentiments, driving Sri Lanka towards a collision course with its big neighbour. Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna, of which founding leader Rohan Wijeweera, known for spewing anti India rage and having authored a humbug party pamphlet on Indian imperialism, could well be fishing in the trouble waters. Somawansa Amarasinghe, the only politburo member of the 1988 JVP, during which the party waged an insurgency against the government and imposed a boycott of Indian goods, went on an offensive against India, last week.
However, such political tragedies could still be mitigated should saner counsel prevail. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the powerful defence secretary is one who had spoken in favour of India.
Blaming India’s domestic compulsions for New Delhi’s vote in favour of the resolution, he said, Indo-Lanka relations are as good as ever. India, according to diplomatic sources, had been instrumental in inserting two amendments to the resolution, making it non intrusive. However such niceties went unnoticed in Colombo’s nationalist uproar.
The popular discourse that Sri Lanka had lumped itself together with a legion of rogue states, as a result of the resolution, is far from the truth. Israel which faces routine censure at the Human Rights Council is by far the only practicing democracy in the Middle East. However, Sri Lanka, both prior and after the vote, is behaving like one of the rogue states. Like Gaddafi, Asad and the Iranian mullahs, the government in Colombo organized mass anti-western rallies, cracked down on domestic dissent, threatened local civil rights activists and slandered the names of slain and abducted journalists.
The last two political activists to disappear, Lalith Kumar and Kugan were abducted in Jaffna only three months back.
On the day of the vote, government MPs held a protest in Parliament. On the following day, the government rejected a key demand of the UN Human Rights Resolution.
Acting Foreign Minister DEW Gunasekera told parliament that the government would resist the provision of technical advice in order to investigate war crimes by the office of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, as stipulated by the Human Rights Council resolution.
“We will not, under any circumstances, allow others to impose on us their advice or solution,” he said.
Elsewhere, Wimal Weerawansa, Minister of Housing asked the government to close down the Voice of America radio transmission station in Iranawila. He said it was used for espionage. Earlier, Weerawansa called for a boycott of American brands – apparently oblivious to basic trade facts that the United States is by far Sri Lanka’s main export market.
Sri Lanka, at the moment, is driven by passion, not by rationale. And it is heading towards multiple confrontations with its own people, and with the civilized part of the world.