Dark Days in Sri Lanka

by NILANTHA ILANGAMUWA

‘Distrustful sense with modest caution speaks,

It still looks home, and short excursions makes;

But rattling nonsense in full volleys breaks,

And, never shocked, and never turned aside.

Bursts out, resistless, with a thundering tide,’

– Alexander Pope (Essay on Criticism)

Colombo.

It was not a surprise when yesterday morning in a Colombo suburb, a motivated group, arriving in a white van, launched commando-style attack on Manjula Thilakaratna, Secretary to the Judicial Service Commission (JSC). The victim was admitted to a hospital, where the government refused to allow visitors, including members of the media. A similar attack had targeted the Editor of the Sunday Leader, Lasantha Wicramatunge, in January 2009. On that occasion, the victim was hacked to death by a group of people, in a part of Colombo believed to be safe and secure.

Today, the October 8th, is another dark day of the history of Sri Lanka. All lawyers have boycotted the courts in protest against the attack on the JSC Secretary. This is the second time in three months that lawyers are on strike countrywide.  The first strike was launched after the Magistrate Court in Mannar had been attacked by henchmen of a ruling party politician. A few days later, another judge in the North had been attacked, but security forces in the area were able to sweep the incident under the carpet in the name of national security and territorial integrity.

The need for a genuine investigation to prove the ruling party and its allies’ connection to these lawless, armed groups is undeniable. The people are no longer interested in listening to the same song from the government – that always categorises such incidents as a part of an “international conspiracy”, or an act by certain opposition groups, to tarnish the image of the government and its leadership.

It was two weeks ago that the Secretary of the JSC issued an unbiased and remarkable statement, which received international attention, by pointing out that the commission has been subjected to baseless criticism by the State and the compromised media of the country. According to the statement,

“The attention of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) has been drawn to baseless criticism of the JSC and in general on the judiciary by the electronic and print media. The main objective of those behind the conspiracy of those trying to undermine the JSC and Judiciary is to destroy the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.”

“It is [JSC] an independent institution established under the Constitution. Under the Constitution any direct or indirect attempt by any person or through any person to influence or attempt to influence any decision taken by the Commission is an offence which could be tried in a High Court,” the statement further noted.

President Rajapaksa expressed his anger at the statement issued by the JSC, not only at his weekly cabinet meeting, and his “meeting while having a breakfast with editors”, but in public meetings also. The independence of the judiciary has been a major concern for the President over the last couples of weeks, and the ruling party media has engaged in maverick attacks on the JSC and its officials.

“The Executive, Judiciary and Legislature should not show their might to the people but should be more committed to serve the people. No person has the right to suppress or deprive people of their sovereign rights”, President Rajapaksa said recently. For persons who know little about Sri Lankan politics, such words can sound apt, and even appealing. Like other professional politicians, Rajapaksa knows how to articulate lies to the public and knows how to articulate statements as a tool of social control. None can deny the noble truth that ‘fools rush in where angels fear to tread.’

The attack on the Secretary of the JSC is not an isolated incident, but a reflection of the social control and destruction of institutions, wielded and effected by criminals in government. Such use of violence is widespread. In the first week of this month, the widow of an Army soldier, who died in action in 2006, was sexually assaulted by a village officer when she visited his office to take a letter. She is a mother of three and went to the village office in Wilgamuwa where she resides. She requested a letter from the officer regarding the extension of her late-husband’s pension. However, without giving a letter, T.G.G.S.N. Thennakoon, the village officer in Wilgamuwa, sexually assaulted her and used a death threat to try to prevent her from speaking out. The victim is still looking for justice, while the perpetrator is yet to be arrested.

The ruling party is able to control every state institution, while using the battle against the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) as pretence for taking power. The exploitation of the victory against the LTTE in 2009 has created tremendous opportunity for the ruling party to spread lawlessness as a means of increasing its social control throughout the country. The government would not have power if they established ordinary governance without military interference. There is nothing to hide, the militarisation of the country is too wide-spread for anyone not to know and the ruling party’s sponsored groups breed violations of citizen’s personal liberty and spread the same like a virus, in a way so that people cannot raise their voice against unjust actions and criminals.

Nilantha Ilangamuwa is journalist and editor of the Sri Lanka Guardian, an online daily news paper based in Colombo Sri Lanka. He can be reached atilangamuwa@gmail.com or editor@srilankaguardian.org 

Will Falk moved to the West Coast from Milwaukee, WI where he was a public defender.

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