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article imageOp-Ed: Deadly dangers of Freedom of Speech, alive tomorrow in Sri Lanka

By Heike Winnig     Apr 30, 2010 in Politics
What’s happened to journalists and others who speak out against the dictatorial government of Sri Lanka? Who’s on the “hit list” the government’s state intelligence units have drawn up? One day they’re here, the next day they’ve vanished.
It seems like the twilight zone or living in medieval times. Somehow, one has to wonder if we’re really living in the 21st century, that this is the year 2010. Have we come this far in developing our intelligence and technology only to go backward? How is it possible that a small, lovely tropical island in South Asia can be controlled by a president, a tyrant, who has no regard for the welfare of his citizens? How much more brutality and abuse do Sri Lanka’s citizens have to endure before the United Nations will step in and exile, if not prosecute this man, calling himself President and Commander in Chief, for the international crimes of murder?
Indeed, does one truly need to wonder if the presidential election in January 2010 was just a mockery and ruse to fool the world into thinking and believing Sri Lanka was holding a democratic election?
Nothing but questions, which answers are only too obvious in what they represent. A totalitarian government owned by President Mahinda Rajapaksa since his first presidency in 2005. A government still forcefully detaining up to 100,000 displaced Sri Lankan Tamils in camps since the civil war ended last May. 10,000 of which citizens are held on the suspicion of having supported the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). No one has heard from them or knows if they’re alive. The camps are short on food and water, not to mention they receive no medical attention, and brutal violence, as rape and torture, is running rampant.
On March 10, 2010, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International came together in a joint statement demanding the Sri Lankan government end its persecution of journalists and activists and take steps against those making threats.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, made this statement: “The Sri Lankan government is conducting a carefully coordinated witch hunt aimed at discrediting critics of the government. This is extremely dangerous and irresponsible in a country where journalists and activists have often been threatened and killed.”
This “witch hunt” consists of a leaked document that appears to be a government surveillance list of more than 30 journalists and activists, which ominously raised concerns about the safety of the people on the list, the organizations said. Since the January 2010 presidential election, the government has engaged in a campaign to silence and discredit journalists and nongovernmental organizations. Without delay after the presidential poll, it initiated a widespread crackdown, arresting opposition supporters and pro-opposition journalists. Security forces threatened and attacked trade unionists in workplaces. On February 8, military police arrested General Fonseka amid lurid, but uncorroborated, government allegations that he was planning a coup d'état against Rajapaksa.
A detailed report from World Socialist Web Site by Nanda Wickremesinghe, SEP candidate for Jaffna, on March 22, 2010, states that the Lanka News Web reported, that this hit list is categorized according to a points system and actually named several people on it:
“At the top of the list on equal points are Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, executive director of the Centre of Policy Alternatives (CPA), and Krishantha Weliamuna, director of Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL). Others named in the Lanka News Web article include: Free Media Movement convener Sunil Jayasekera, Lankaenews editor Sandaruwan Senadhira and Joint Movement for Democracy convener Sudarshana Gunawardena.”
Mike Blakemore, Amnesty International media director, suggested that the government might have intentionally leaked the list to further intimidate political opponents. “Such a blatant leak can have only one purpose and that is to intimidate those individuals on the list and deter anyone from speaking to them,” he said.
The WSWS further reports that the media has been a specific target. Since the beginning of 2006, at least 14 media workers have been killed. In a deliberate case in January last year, Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickrematunge was murdered in broad daylight while he was travelling to his office. His killers were able to flee on motorbikes despite the heavy police and security presence in the area. No one has been charged and no post-mortem report has yet been made public. Other journalists have been assaulted, abducted or simply disappeared. More than 20 journalists have fled the country fearing for their lives.
The government’s malicious actions are not predominantly aimed at NGO's, journalists or opposition politicians, but also against working people. President Rajapaksa has prepared for a confrontation with the working class, because he is required to implement the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) fundamentally strict requirements.
On April 22, 2010, Human Rights Watch reported that the president of the European Union Council, Herman van Rompuy, and EU member should express his concern over the prosecution and the potential suspension of Judge Baltasar Garzón of Spain for investigating Franco-era abuses. A Spanish Supreme Court investigating magistrate, Luciano Varela, ruled that by intentionally bypassing Spain's 1977 amnesty law for "political acts," Garzón committed an abuse of power.
Lotte Leicht, EU advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said, "The decision leaves Spain and Europe open to the charge of double standards and undermines the EU's credibility and effectiveness in the fight against impunity for serious crimes."
According to HRW, the restrictions against Garzón are not only a blow to the families of victims of serious crimes in Spain. These restrictions also risk undermining the European Union's collective credibility and effectiveness in seeking justice for current human rights crimes, be they in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, or Sri Lanka.
Under international law, governments have an obligation to ensure that victims of human rights abuses have equal and effective access to justice, as well as an effective remedy – including justice, truth, and adequate reparations after they suffer a violation. The UN Human Rights Committee, in charge of monitoring compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ensures that domestic courts do not apply limitation periods to crimes against humanity. It also ensures that acts of torture, which also include enforced disappearances, are not offenses subject to amnesty, and it enforces efforts to help the families of victims find out what happened to their loved ones, to identify them, and to have their remains exhumed, if possible.
The billion dollar question is what other evidence of human rights violations of kidnapping, torture and murder is required before the UN is convinced of this bedlam and inclined to step in and clean house of Sri Lanka’s upstanding President and his esteemed government officials.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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