For press freedom by Sunanda Deshapriya
[Editorial, Eelam Nation]
In the recent debacle of President Rajapakse’s ignominious forced withdrawal of his address to the prestigious Oxford Union, his foreign minister, an academic known to be one of the most servile of sycophants not only of Rajapakse but also the members of his dynasty, chooses on this occasion to be the devil citing scripture on democracy, for the sake of his master and for his own parochial purpose. Like speaking to a Sri Lankan constituency the minister stated at a media conference in London that the cancellation of Rajapakse’s speech was not an attack on Sri Lanka or President Rajapaksa but on the values of democracy in the UK, and was wholly incompatible with the British political system and the hallowed traditions of Oxford and whether it was acceptable that a speaker was silenced in a country that enjoys the freedom of speech. Peiris perhaps forgot that he was speaking to an enlightened audience that could see things in their true perspective.
It is not quite clear, in view of conflicting reports, as to whether Mahinda Rajapakse was to address the entirety of the membership of the prestigious Oxford University Union or just a handful of the Sri Lankan section to be stacked with his supporters and members of the staff of the Sri Lankan embassy in Britain, but for all intents and purposes Rajapakse was in such unholy haste to show the world that he was invited to address the Oxford Union for the second time, a record that he wished to flaunt. It was not what he was going to say that was important but the fact that he was to say anything.
For the Oxford Union, discretion being the better part of valour, they had to weigh between the dissenting voices of more than 300,000 Tamils not necessarily the remnants of the LTTE, as made out to be, as against letting a war criminal wanting to address the prestigious forum just to satisfy his megalomaniacal ego just to show the world , reading out a script prepared by someone else to an audience at the Oxford Union, and to go back to say that he had returned having conquered the Oxford Union for the second time, thus abusing its good will just to justify his own ends. The damage to the Union would have been irreparable and far greater than the quantum of the erosion of Rajapakse’s vanity and his vicarious pleasure. The union had prudently and ostensibly stated: “due to the sheer scale of the expected protests, we do not feel that the talk can safely go ahead”.
Not all the embassies, the consulates and Bell Pottinger can white wash the monumental crimes of Rajapakse, his brothers, his sycophants and the Sri Lankan armed forces perpetrated on non combatant Tamils. Intellectually, Rajapakse is no Bandaranaike or Kadirgamar and could not have under normal circumstances aspired to even enter the academic portals of the Oxford University. He is capable of only presiding over the destinies of a nationalist Sri Lanka, crowing to the world standing over the graves (if there are any) of tens of thousands of innocent Tamils including old men, the infirm and babies, claiming to have defeated a ruthless terrorist group he called a part of global terrorism. No sooner he returned to Sri Lanka there were protests led by his ministers, massaging his depressed ego, ranting racist slogans against the English people referring to the colour of their skin, shamelessly forgetting that Sri Lanka is a nation playing international cricket, a legacy of British colonialism.
Given the conflicting topics that Rajapakse was to speak on (or read) like the development of the rural economy or as claimed by the foreign minister to inform the world of the intentions of the Sri Lankan government with regard to reconciliation and re settlement of internally displaced people, it is important to note that the cancellation of Rajapakse’s “address” was no deliberate attempt on the part of the Oxford Union to influence in any way people’s thinking or their minds on the current Sri Lankan situation. The cancellation was not a threat to the freedom of speech as made out by the foreign minister Peiris but on the contrary for its own protection and its traditions for generations to come. Given Rajapakse’s lies on his dismal human rights record, for example that the war against the Tamils was an humanitarian operation and that not a single bullet was used against an innocent Tamil when nearly 40,000 Tamils were killed, too obvious for the consumption of persons with any degree of sanity.
Rajapakse’s visit with an entourage of a hundred persons to make up the audience at state expense was private in so far as the British government was concerned and they were in no way obliged to provide any security at their tax payers’ expense and the Oxford union in their decision took cognizance of this. “Quite simply the expected protests are likely to be on a scale that would have been unprecedented in Oxford, placing immense strain on the local police”, they said.
It must be stated that in Sri Lanka more than 17 journalists both Sinhalese and Tamil have met with violent deaths with no prosecution in sight, many abducted and severely assaulted, some like Eknelligoda are still missing, journalists like Tissanayagam were imprisoned, all for their dissenting views. Most recently Dr Jayalath Jayewardene an outspoken MP of the opposition was assaulted by some cabinet ministers within the parliamentary premises for speaking out his views while in London. Dr Vicremabahu Karunaratne a Trotskyist Marxist was assaulted on his return to Sri Lanka for having spoken at a Tamil forum.
No foreign journalists have still been allowed into Tamil-speaking areas formerly known as the combat area. Dissent in Sri Lanka has no place. The evidence of the Tamil-speaking people at the LLRC is so overwhelming with grievances and complaints that its Chair with a dubious record in the dispensation of justice, like any other Sri Lankan petty bureaucrat can only say that the matter would be inquired into, it would be looked into, etc. We are certain that like other eyewash commissions of this nature nothing will come out of it. It is a device to cheat not only the Tamil-speaking people but also the world community taking the red herring across its trail.
“Had he been able to speak at the Oxford Union, President Rajapakse’s message would been one of reconciliation by Sri Lankans in all parts of the world, expressing the government’s wish to reach out to all Sri Lankans in the UK, irrespective of religion, race and political persuasion” Peiris says. So far Rajapakse and his ruling dynasty have not in any way given even the slightest indication of this.
The displaced Tamils in the North and the East are waiting for the monsoons for resettlement as promised by Rajapakse perhaps to be consumed so that their residue would be allowed a slow death with the illusion of some sort of assistance with Indian complicity.
It would be recalled that this minister when confronted with video images of the horrendous execution killings of Tamils both men and women, clandestinely passed on to human rights groups at the risk of their lives asked for the sources of these pictures when the perpetrators were very clearly depicted in the pictures. It would be impossible to imagine that if the sources were to be divulged not only those persons but also their families would be eliminated.
The devil again quotes Voltaire in so many words: “If one were to sum up this spirit of the Oxford Union it was best done by the words of Voltaire: ‘I disagree with every word you say, but shall defend unto death your right to say what you have to say”. The bottom line is that Rajapakse, thankfully, was not allowed to say a word.
Finally, it is important to note that Sri Lanka is one of the countries along with 18 other satellites of China, boycotting the felicitation for the Nobel Prize award for its jailed outspoken Chinese dissident and critic of the massacres of the Tianeman Square, Liu Xiaobao. This is ample demonstration and sums up the level of regard that the Sri Lankan government has for free speech and dissent.