Freedom of Expression News From Sri Lanka
MFSL note 2 12th May 2009
12th June 2009 issue of Economist magazine has been held up for security reasons (!) by Sri Lanka customs. Subscribers who pay SLR 11,000 a year to Vijitha Yapa book shop in Colombo have not received their copies yet. The reason for this censorship could well be an article on Sri Lanka, which is pasted below this note. According to informed sources this is the 4th Economist issue that has been banned by customs in recent past.
Sri Lanka Customs has banned several South Indian magazines in the recent past, including Ananda Vikadam. Owner of the well known Tamil bookshop, Poobalasingham, Mr. Sritharasing was detained for importing Ananda Vikadam on 5th March 2009. A few days later student who was going to Jaffna was arrested at theRathmalana domestic airport when air port security found a copy of the magazine with him (see MFSL monthly report March 2009).
On 29th April controller of Immigration and Emigration, P.B.Abeykoon, stated that his Department has deported or denied visas to a large number of foreign journalists, on the basis of a belief that these journalists are not capable of ‘balanced reporting’. (see MFSL special report No 2) According to our information no journalist will be allowed to Sri Lanka on visitor visa which can be obtained on arrival form now on.
Government of Sri Lanka has repeatedly assured international community that there will be no media censorship in Sri Lanka especially in the post war period. But the reality speaks otherwise.
Sri Lanka after the war – Victory’s rotten fruits
The government’s unpleasant triumphalism is sowing the seeds of renewed conflict
THE defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam by the Sri Lankan army should be cause for almost universal celebration—whatever its manner. The foreign governments that had banned the Tigers as terrorists and from whose Tamil minorities some of the Tigers’ funds had been extorted are glad to see them beaten. So too are Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority, after a 26-year civil war. But Sri Lankan Tamils should also rejoice. They had borne the brunt of the Tigers’ ruthless silencing of dissenting voices, of their pressganging of children and of the bloody consequences of their refusal to countenance any achievable political settlement. Yet the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa is making even moderate Tamils at home and overseas feel its victory as their defeat.
In the third of his big set-piece victory speeches early this month, Mr Rajapaksa asserted that the war had been fought to liberate the Tamil people. Unaccountably, he made no reference to the sufferings of Sri Lankan Tamils even though nearly 300,000 of them have been displaced from their homes and are now miserably interned in camps. The president also harked back to ancient Sinhalese martial heroes. Marking victory with plans to build stupas all over the mainly Buddhist country, and relishing songs, posters and newspaper articles hailing him as a “king”, Mr Rajapaksa seems to be cultivating the image of an elected monarch. In particular, he likes to recall Dutugemunu, a famous warrior-king of the second century BC, who defeated Elara, a Tamil usurper from India.
This foolish oratorical provocation has been matched by increasing intolerance of dissent, suspicion of many Tamils and threats against those seen as Tiger “collaborators”. The government refuses to bow to calls for an independent investigation into the final weeks of the war, in which thousands are believed to have been killed by government shelling. It blames nearly all the civilian deaths on the Tigers. But in the absence of any inquiry a decades-old culture of impunity will persist, as will Tamil grievances and a sense of injustice.
This week a shipload of relief supplies for the displaced, sent by Tamil exiles suspected of Tiger sympathies, was turned back, even though the defence ministry conceded they had no “dangerous” intentions. The process of sending the displaced people home from the camps is painfully slow, partly because of the need to de-mine and rebuild their home villages, but also because of the fixation on weeding out Tigers hiding among the civilians. One-eighth of those interned are believed to be children. In light of the Tigers’ record of deploying women and children as fighters and suicide-bombers, some caution is understandable. But little is being done to reassure moderate Tamils that the government cares for their plight. Conditions in the camps are no longer so critical, but there are too few toilets, and some have to queue five or six hours for their daily ration of water.
Meanwhile government ministers in Colombo mutter darkly about journalists and NGOs allegedly once in the Tigers’ pay. This encourages a freelance witch-hunt. On June 1st thugs abducted and beat up Poddala Jayantha, a journalist and activist. They have not been caught, but a fellow writer who alerted the police to the abduction was interrogated for hours. Scared, journalists have started to censor themselves.
No farewell to arms
Far from cashing a peace dividend by demobilising soldiers, the chief of the army has said he means to swell its ranks by 100,000, to 300,000—out of a population of just 21m. An already highly militarised country is to become even more so, with soldiers deployed everywhere to nip any reborn Tamil nationalist insurgency in the bud. In the “liberated” north local elections are to be held as early as August. Many will have to vote from the camps. Few will believe the process free or fair, seeing it, like elections in 2008 in the east, as a way of installing candidates in favour in Colombo.
Having made a strong case that it was liberating millions of its own people from the terrorist yoke, Sri Lanka’s government seems to be doing its best to make those people feel newly oppressed. That is not the way to win reconciliation. It is a prescription for renewed rebellion.
Jun 11th 2009
From The Economist print edition