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Mr. President: Stop This Madness Now!

[The Sunday Leader.lk, Saturday, 13 February 2010 19:33 No Comment]

The current leadership of this country is suffering from an acute attack of PARANOIA. How else to explain the continuing harassment of journalists, re-introducing draconian laws against  the media, bringing the army onto the streets to police civilians and the ultimate of all — arresting the former army commander (marketed by this government as a national hero) who supposedly has before his retirement a) Politicked whilst in uniform, b) Conspired against the Commander-in-Chief whilst in Service, c) Harbored more than 1,500 deserters whilst on service, and d) Engaged in corrupt practices relating to military procurements.

Another probe is ongoing into Fonseka’s alleged involvement in an assassination plot against President Rajapaksa and his two siblings Gotabaya and Basil Rajapaksa.
A third line of investigation is about General Fonseka’s role in the killings of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge and Tamil National Alliance MP for Jaffna, Nadarajah Raviraj.

It appears from these actions that moves are afoot to keep the General detained indefinitely  and to conduct the parliamentary poll with him in custody.

This begs a question. If indeed the General did commit these offences whilst holding the office of Army Commander, why on earth didn’t the President apprehend and bring him before the law sooner?

It is less than six months since the General retired from office. Were the President and his brothers unaware of these supposed felonies, offences and alleged murders committed by Sarath Fonseka?

We at this newspaper have ad nauseam called on the President to conduct a fair investigation into the dastardly killing of his former ‘friend’ and ally Lasantha Wickrematunge.  Even as he studiously ignored our pleas we have trudged to court every two weeks hoping against all hope that the police would have found some clue as to who murdered Lasantha. To no avail.

If indeed Sarath Fonseka conspired to kill Lasantha, why was the President silent for over one year?  Why was it impossible to garner sufficient proof to arrest and, yes, hang him for murder.  We at The Sunday Leader would be the first to salute and applaud Rajapaksa for ensuring that justice prevails.

Who was guilty for the horrendous assault on former deputy editor of The Nation newspaper Keith Noyahr? Who assaulted and knifed journalist Namal Perera together with his friend Mahendra Ratnaweera on a busy highway at 5.30 p.m. on June 30, 2008?  Who, hot on the heels of Lasantha’s killing, knifed former Rivira Editor Upali Tennakoon as he left for office one morning at 7.30 a.m.?

It is well over one year since these deplorable attacks on journalists took place. Since then some two dozen journalists have left this country and continue to live in exile. What about the Tamil journalists murdered under Rajapaksa’s watch? Who killed them? Why has his  government failed to find evidence or clues as to who committed these disgusting and nauseating attacks? Does the President want us to believe that our police force is this impotent?

For decades now successive ruling parties have killed, harassed and intimidated journalists.  In the last few decades no single political leader or political party in power or in the opposition can claim that this did not happen during their time. No political leader can claim that he or she was not actively involved or, alternatively, kept quiet when journalists were being murdered.

This newspaper in this context paid the ultimate price, having been a target for assault, burning, victimization and suppression of free expression through each successive government. Culminating, of course, with a cold-blooded murder under Rajapaksa’s watch. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga even went so far as to seal us in the year 2000, at which time Mangala Samaraweera was her Media Minister.

What is frightening, though, is this trend continuing when the ruling party enjoyed an unprecedented wave of popular support with the defeat of the LTTE, the opposition in total disarray, and the government naturally having nothing to fear.
We can only shudder, imagining what the response of this government would be if and when it is not so popular and the opposition gets its act together. One does not have to be an astrologer to predict that fallout.

Six million people voted for Rajapaksa at the recently concluded election. All of those millions chose him over the retired General because they not only realised that it was he who displayed the will-power to end the war but also believed that he possessed the political know-how vital to continue governing this country.

They believed that an incumbent president would rise above partisan politics and display the true statesmanship so very important to take this country forward. But his actions, post election, have dismayed and disillusioned the millions who cast their vote in his favour.

The President’s actions, post election, have further isolated the four million who voted in favour of the General. The four million plus Rajapaksa needed to win over. The four million who took a risk with the unknown, unlovable and loose-mouthed Fonseka.  As Citizen Anura Gunasekera puts it so succinctly, these four million plus voted hoping that a change would bring about an acceptable equilibrium between the imposition of the rule of the law for the ordinary many and the exercise of the law of the rulers for the extraordinary few; that a change would bring order to what is fast becoming a lawless society; that marauding parliamentarians would at last be equally subject to legal restriction as any Citizen Perera; that public and private corruption would be minimized or curtailed to an extent that it is no longer a festering sore on the body politic; that journalists who voice a dissenting point of view could ply their trade without incurring the risk of armed attack, abduction and even loss of life; that unaligned news broadcasters could function without fear of being shut down for disseminating unpalatable truths; that the unconscionable expenditure of public funds on the aggrandizement of the politically powerful could be halted; that the minorities of this country who have suffered loss of life, livelihood, shelter, education and the opportunity of participation in mainstream national activity, would at last be given equal opportunities along with the majority.

At The Sunday Leader we took a conscious decision to support the campaign of General Fonseka – despite deep personal reservations – because we sincerely believed that some, if not all of the above issues made it imperative to vote for Fonseka on January 26. Of course, at a more personal level Rajapaksa and his government left us with little option, having pushed us up against a brick wall from which there is no turning around. That, however, does not make us, or any one of those four million plus TRAITORS. Or, for that matter, the three million plus who refrained from voting for either Rajapaksa or Fonseka.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The free media serves as a mirror in which the public can see itself.

From us the President learns the state of his nation, and especially its management by the people we have elected to give our children a better future. Sometimes the image he sees in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But that does not make us traitors. Nay, the President would benefit by taking into account what the independent media brings forth for consideration for corrective action.

In fact, within the framework of a true democracy  a government needs newspapers of the calibre of The Sunday Leader to maintain the necessary checks and balances in governance. We are not the enemy. We never have been and never will be. Never has it been the need of the hour as it is now for Rajapaksa to recognise this fact – to rise above petty political vindictiveness and display the qualities required of a statesman, the qualities for which he was voted – resoundingly – back into office for a second term.

Unfortunately – to this nation’s shame — the grim reality is that the events of the short week following the presidential election do not offer any reassurances. There was, first, the armed encirclement of the challenger’s location even before the final results of the elections were confirmed. Since then there have been arrests and detentions of individuals for allegedly conspiring against the government and for plotting the President’s assassination, the sudden “compulsory retirement” of high-ranking army personnel and the all-too-familiar disappearance of a journalist who worked for an independent website.

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