l by Nilantha Ilangamuwa
There is always a fallacious belief that, “It would not be the same here; here such things are impossible”1. The morning of Valentine’s Day (February 14) started with the unwholesome smell of the burnt carcass of a person; the incident took place in the central part of Colombo, which is one of most secure places in the entire country. The body had been tied to a pole and burnt. People are weeping and screaming over the incident, no one has a solution, and all are in a dilemma. Many suspect that the victim is the person who was abducted outside the court by an armed gang yesterday. If this is true, then it is common sense to understand where we are heading. Is this what we have achieved after the long bloody conflict with the LTTE? The incident reminds people of the southern riots in 70s and 80s where thousands of people were burn alive on the road and extrajudicial killings by state agencies were seen for the first time. Now the powerful are again killing the chickens to scare the monkeys.
It is very clear that we are heading towards a catastrophic situation once again. The peace is a myth in Sri Lanka, while every layer of the society is set on fire by the thirst for power. The dark smoke of a societal breakdown is rising into the sky. This is a nightmare in our society. Our history is full of such tragedies, but we never overcome those circumstances even though we had every opportunity to do so. Perhaps, as Karl Marx explained, history is repeating over and over. The president and his government are clearly showing the people that their way of dealing with essential problems in the country is no longer effective enough to address the core issues of this crisis and that they do not have proper solutions other than blaming each other and blocking information from the public.
Meanwhile the government released a video called “Ruthless”, based on The LTTE’s activities. The government has made this counter production to face the forthcoming Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, in March. Whatever facts the video may present, they do not negate the accountability of the government for its actions. In another words, making this kind of video graphic while the government is giving VIP treatment for the LTTE’s present leader, Shanmugam Kumaran Tharmalingam, alias Selvarasa Pathmanathan, alias Kumaran Pathmanathan, or simply ‘KP is laughable. If the State claims to have arrested a person, under the law there should be a proper trial over the suspect’s activities. As KP claimed he has taken over the leadership of the LTTE which, according to the Government is the ruthless terrorist organisation, there should be a court procedure. What we can understand is that today, criminal procedure had become a “yes man” policy as we can commonly see in other institutes in the country. This is one of the prime examples of the breakdown of rule of law in the country.
The real threat is now not the LTTE, which no longer exists on the ground, but the collapse of societal institutions in the country. A person who filed a fundamental rights petition in the Supreme Court was abducted before his wife and daughter in Colombo. Then there was news is that he was abducted to take a ransom by some unknown groups. According to the news reports, “Ramasamy (Ramasamy Prabaharan ) had earlier filed a fundamental rights violation petition in the Supreme Court citing senior officers of the Colombo Crimes Division as respondents and the case was scheduled to be taken up today. He has asked for Rs. 90 million in damages.” 2 According to an unfinished police investigation, the group is asking for Rs. 100 Million in ransom to release the person. He was abducted after he returned from the Athurugiriya police station, where he had to settle a house dispute with a tenant.
However, in his letter to the UN’s Secretariat of the Committee Against Torture – Petitions Unit, he categorically explained the extent of his own experiences. “My fundamental rights have been violated by the Sri Lankan Police Department and the Intelligence Services and I humbly seek your Excellency’s humane and just government to help me in the deadly predicament I have been forcibly plunged into, by the state. Your Excellency, I beseech you to kindly probe into my grievances and please assist me in securing my release from this grossly unjust situation.” 3 Further he explained that, “During my career as a businessman, I have sent letters to the defense secretary of Sri Lanka in regards to the development of the country and helped many army officers to capture terrorists about to kill innocent lives.” 4
“Due to the most brutal, inhuman and barbaric assault and torture on me while in detention, I was hanged upside down for almost a day and beaten up severely with a wooden pole, about eighteen times, my nails were removed, my head was toned with nails, after all this torture I had to clean the floor of blood with my tongue. This happened for almost four months, and now am suffering with excruciating pain all over my body and had to undergo treatment, but when I was taken to hospital the doctor was shocked to see that I was alive after what I’d been through and tried to forced me to get admitted but I wasn’t allowed to be,” 5 he has explained in details to the UN rapporteur on the subject. Now the story is being swept under the carpet by the ransom issue. What has reminded us in this point is that the Sri Lankan police have improved in terms of making their own story to justify what they have done to the people whom they arrest. One former senior police officer told this writer in an interview three years ago, “ape polisiyata goraka mas karannath… mas goraka karannath puluwan.” In another words, nearly as many people claimed that the police have arrested them for political reasons as have died while in custody. The police will say that they have shot him to death in self defence, because the victim tried to throw a hand grenade. This is what a great writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn has pointed out in his book entitled, “The Gulag Archipelago”, “Truth, it seems, is always bashful, easily reduced to silence by the too blatant encroachment of falsehood.” 6
Nobody knows what will happen to him. But there is no guarantee over the safety of life. This is nothing but a serious failure of policing and judiciary in the country. Today, the country is being run by an unknown armed gang which has stolen freedom from the public. The white van has become a symbol of nightmare.
In his official declaration of victory in the War again the LTTE, at parliament, President Mahinda Rajapaksha stated:
“This will give you great cause for satisfaction……….. The entire population of the country can enjoy that satisfaction. All sections of the people; and all political parties that contributed to my victory in the Presidential Election in 2005 can share this satisfaction.” 7
And he quoted his policy book, called Mahinda Chinthanaya, “The freedom of our country is supreme. I will not permit any separatism. I will also not permit anyone to destroy democracy in our country …I will respect all ethnic and religious identities, refrain from using force against anyone and build a new society that protects individuals and social freedoms” 8.
Three years after this declaration of “liberation” the public can assess where the President’s words and actions have gone? In the same speech he observed,
“Our people began to face a defeatist mentality, whether we could face up to a problem that many countries in the world the world did not seem able to face. Terrorism is like a venomous serpent that draws the most dangerous qualities from politics, economics, science and all subjects in the world.”9
Now with these facts, if you go back to the present situation of the country, the basic question rising within ourselves is, how can the country free itself from fear when the abductors are ruling the nation and the white van has become a symbol of government control? This Nazi or Stalinist culture has a long history in the World and in Sri Lanka. It will never guide us to freedom, but it will give birth to another nightmare. In other words, cannibalism will never guide us to make a wonder of Asia, but it will be the root cause of our self- destruction.
This scenario reminds us today of the words of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who opposed the Nazi regime in Germany,
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
1. The Gulag Archipelago, written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; Page 01
2. The Island, daily newspaper based in Colombo (http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=45148 )
3. Ramasamy Prabaharan’s letter to the UN‘s Secretariat of the Committee Against Torture – Petitions Unit
6. The Gulag Archipelago, written by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn; Page 452
7. The speech delivered by the President Mahinda Rajapaksha on 19 May 2009. http://www.satp.org/satporgtp/countries/shrilanka/document/papers/president_speech_parliament_defeatofLTTE.htm