| by Hana Ibrahim
( January 12, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Some years back when the notorious Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was executed on a Court order, three well-noted Sri Lankan politicians, Rajitha Senaratne, Wimal Weerawansa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara made a public protest at the ex-Iraqi Leader’s tragic end. A week later four Sri Lankan youth were beheaded in Saudi Arabia reportedly without a defence in court, and no one in this country raised a finger to protest.
We can only draw one comparison that politicians are for politicians and the question that we raise today is how genuine are public protests in Sri Lanka, if we are to go by what Weerawansa, Nanayakkara and Senaratne did in protesting against the death of a man who gassed thousands of people and drained out the livelihood of countless more people who were against his brutal regime. The so-called leaders in this country, the opposition included, have never succeeded in a protest to foster the rights of the common man or the man on the street, other than fulfil their own agendas at the expense of the paying public.
Weerawansa even went to the extent of a protest fast opposite the United Nations office in Colombo, until he drew out the Head of State to visit him so he could end what the country saw as a stage-managed protest against the US and the UN.
Now take the case of the Sri Lankan housemaid in Saudi Arabia, Rizana Rafeek, who was executed, beheaded to be precise, after a marathon wrangle. We are not challenging the laws, or the system of another country, in this case Saudi Arabia that holds membership in the United Nations. That’s a problem for the UN, which talks of human rights, to ask its members to examine their methods of meting out punishment. But haven’t governments and governments that are close to each other succeeded in reaching an amicable settlement when it comes to death penalties or will it now come to a stage where the UN will find it obligatory on its part to intervene at least in cases that have stirred up public emotions on a scale as was with the case of Rizana. The extent to which Sri Lanka molly-coddled Saudi Arabia over the past decade has now raised the question of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy, which is run not by career diplomats but by suckers of a government who serve themselves in exotic capitals.
This brings us back to the question of so-called Sri Lankan protests that have now become a daily occurrence and taken the country nowhere forward or brought forth results that has benefitted the common man. The reason why protests don’t produce the desired results or are not taken seriously by the international community, because none of these protests are people-orientated.
Protests in Sri Lanka come with a five-star agenda and are conducted for the five-star community that enjoys the best of living conditions. If the protesters are not hired for money or organized by politicians, the protest is about someone who has enjoyed the best things in life. When was the last time a public protest was held to uphold the rights of, say, the fishing community, the farming community or the several thousands of people who can barely afford a square meal.
If these five-star protests are about pre-empting what may befall the common man if the high and mighty can be jailed or put out of work, it is understandable. But the way, the winds of protest have only added to the uncertainty in the country and we are left to wonder whether the concept of ‘protest’ in this country, has lost its meaning.
Going by some of the protests taking place these days, it seems everyone is right. The government is right, the opposition is right and everybody else is wrong. The government says it is right to impeach the Chief Justice, while the opposition says it is wrong to sack the protector of justice in the country. The law book and the rule book have been opened and a government is also adamant that they are right.
Where does this leave the people, as if they have not had enough with the jailing of former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka, that it is now the turn of the Chief Justice to pay up. If this be the case, Sri Lanka should have built more prisons and jail-houses to accommodate many people before Sarath Fonseka, who even the clergy declared was a political victim. And now the Chief Justice stands in the dock another apparent political victim, while politicians like Mervyn Silva, who have become a public scourge, get away with any question that is against his name.
( Hana Ibrahim is the editor, Ceylon Today, a daily based in Colombo )