FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION SRI LANKA

For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya

Booing: the Last mode of free speech in Sri Lanka

“Like dogs howling, whimpering, growling and whining to convey their message to be taken serious cognizance of, little children who cannot tell, cry or scream because they want something. You do not thrash them or beat them up just to silence them which could have disastrous consequences. Asking for something is not a crime.”

(October 15, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian)

We refer here to the case of the four university undergraduates of the prestigious Peradeniya university campus being remanded in prison facing some serious penal charges in an Act, quite unrelated to the alleged offence, namely the Anti-Ragging Act for want of an appropriate charge nothing to do with the nature of the actual incident but used in this instance to penalise them, making a mockery of justice, not quite unfamiliar to the current administration of justice in Sri Lanka. The alleged booing by the students, who also happen to be office bearers of the democratically elected Students Council, took place when the minister for higher education visited the University of Peradeniya, done as a mark of protest to the minister. Instead of letting justice to take its course the minister, in the typical Sri Lankan fashion, has ordered that these students be dealt with under the Anti Ragging Act.

Apparently, the Anti Ragging Act relates to the rather friendly harassment of new entrants to the university, a traditional form of inducting them in the old days. This custom was often abused to become sometimes vulgar and violent. As booing is not an offence under the penal code the minister interprets it to mean that he was a new entrant to the University in the sense that he was entering the University campus as a new person, a freshman, not being a member of the university community, and therefore this act of booing in the meaning of the minister amounts to him being ragged. The penalty for the offence of ragging under this Act is a seven year term of imprisonment.

In a climate, where the ultimate plight of those including journalists, believing that Sri Lanka was a true democracy, who dared articulate any dissent either orally or in writing meeting with disastrous ends like death, abduction, assault and disappearance perhaps short of being sent to the gas chambers, sanity prevailing the students concerned, quite prudently chose under the given circumstances to transmit their message in the most appropriate language suited to the occasion to the Hon. Minister who has apparently failed to take cognizance of it in a positive manner. It must be remembered that in the current context of media reporting some media have even been ordered to carry pictures of Anoma, the wife of the imprisoned former Gen. Fonseka portraying not grief over her husband’s plight, but happiness where possible.

The dog, a man’s best friend, for instance, is one of the most communicative of all animal species. It has always shared the current misfortune of the ordinary person in Sri Lanka in that it is neither able to speak out nor write to convey its feelings of dissent. Fortunately, however, the dog, although a lower form of life than man, is given to whining, howling, barking and whimpering and these are employed to suit different circumstances and its messages conveyed through these media are often meant to be taken positively and seriously, failing which, can be detrimental. Whining is a way of communicating that tells us that our dog is upset, scared, or in pain. It is usually a behavioral response to being upset or feeling abandoned by his or her pack whose leader is the master or the mistress. However, if you have a dog that has never whined, but suddenly starts, you probably have a dog that is hurt.

Dogs also do bark for many reasons, such as when perceiving intruders, other dogs or other animals approach their living space and also to express different feelings such as fear and suspicion. Dogs generally try to avoid conflict; their vocalizations are part of what allows other dogs to tune into their emotions. Growls can express aggression and or a desire to play. Howling may provide long-range communication with other dogs or owners. Dogs sometimes howl when as an instinctive response to hearing what they interpret to be another dog howling. They whine when they want attention. They can whimper when they are neglected or when in pain.

In the instant case, the mode of articulation employed by the students was booing very close to dogs howling the medium that was used to communicate with the Minister. The Hon. Minister for higher education with all his professed scholarship, not being another Ivan Pavlov, cannot be held responsible for his scant knowledge of dog psychology and behaviourism in relation to humans. Instead, the minister chooses to adopt an arrogant attitude in relating this matter to a farfetched and irrelevant penal offence, which given the prevailing current justice system could send these students to jail and jeopardise their future.

It is indeed a tragedy that humans in Sri Lanka have less freedom in expressing their feelings than a species of a very much lower form of life. The Tamils of the north and the east dare not talk of their plight, as much as it is for the IDPs on the run for they may have to run into the jaws of a gas chamber. For ever, we are told of the elusive land mines to be cleared for them to be allowed to settle in their own homes.

Having lost faith in the administration of the Sri Lankan justice system, it is not surprising that the students have desperately appealed to the powerful Buddhist prelates, often the political power brokers, to intervene with the view to bringing them justice. Unfortunately, pronouncements of the members of the Rajapakse family and their close sycophants who think they are above the law, supersede provisions of the written law of the country and that their interpretations of the law should prevail. In this case it is the overwhelming word of the Hon. Minister that he was “ragged” as against the weak defence of the helpless accused students.

Like dogs howling, whimpering, growling and whining to convey their message to be taken serious cognizance of, little children who cannot tell, cry or scream because they want something. You do not thrash them or beat them up just to silence them which could have disastrous consequences. Asking for something is not a crime. This is what the Tamil people had been doing since 1956. They were asking for the right to be treated equally and or equitably, but from 1956 to 1983, they were being periodically thrashed, killed, pillaged, their women raped, properties destroyed and families separated for good. The rise of Tamil militancy as a consequence is of no surprise and here again the resilient Tamil nation stand at the threshold of complete destruction.
http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2010/10/booing-last-mode-of-free-speech-in-sri.html

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