At her meeting with the press before leaving Sri Lanka after visiting it with the complete freedom of movement for seven days she said, “ I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”
That was a very strange statement from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who came to the country in quest of the truth of violations of human rights of which she had heard, without reliable evidence. She had at the end decided to pass judgement, again from what she had heard, without attempting to separate facts from fiction, believing what see heard without ascertaining their reliability, or whether they are verifiable facts.
She spoke at length on the media freedom, and governments repression of free speech, for which she had perhaps depended not on her own personal evaluations, but going on a petition handed over to her by the media organisations, namely, “ … the Free Media Movement of Sri Lanka (FMM), the Sri Lanka Working Journalists’ Association (SLWJA), the Federation of Media Employees’ Trade Union (FMETU), Sri Lanka Tamil Media Alliance (SLTMA), Sri Lanka Muslim Media Forum (SLMMF), South Asian Free Media Association – Sri Lanka Chapter (SAFMA) and Media Movement for Democracy (MMD).”.
Some of these Media Movements are known for coming forward to make manifestation at every opportunity no matter whether they manifest for the correct issues or the wrong, mostly they manifest for the wrong issues , merely because they discredit the government which is their principal motivation.
It was reported, that they had made :
“ a strong case for foregrounding media freedom, the right to free speech and the right to information among the priority areas in post-war Sri Lanka. Though Sri Lanka guarantees the right to free speech in its Constitution and is a signatory to all relevant international covenants, the seven media organizations informed the UN delegation, these rights have been under severe threat since the past many years.”
They had pointed out that, “…. 114 media practitioners and other citizens being killed since 1981, in retaliation for their exercise of the right to free speech. The trend has in fact been escalating, with 34 journalists being recorded as killed since 2005.Had Navi Pillay accepted these accusations on the face value, or had she made any attempt to verify the truth , or the reasons behind such accusations ?
If not she should have examined into the petition before the facts are accepted or see through them through objectivity to find out whether they are exaggerations to discredit the government to fit into certain agendas of groups of persons, or countries?
Some of these allegations may have been investigated, or are in the course of being investigated by the relevant authorities in Sri Lanka. But they by themselves cannot be attributed to a Government “showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”
A government has a right to control certain media reports when they are made deliberately to incite people against the government, groups of people, religious institutions etc.
A country specially a developing Country expects its local media to support the government in its development process without projecting a wrong image of the country to the outside world, which is more interest in itself, rather than in the progress and development of developing countries.
In that respect the press in Sri Lanka lacks patriotic sentiments, more critical of the government than appreciative of its contribution to development and progress of the country.
Many Journals of Sri Lanka are well known for “slanting” news to suit their purpose political or otherwise. One of the journalists whose house was burgled recently herself speaks of false reporting by the media. The journalist Mandana Ismail Abeywickrama says:
The Udayan paper for instance is inciting racism without hesitating to give false information to discredit the government and the Armed Forces. Such journals should not be tolerated even in a democracy, let alone in a Dictatorship.
The JVP General Secretary Tilvin Silva pretending to be a patriotic politician, criticises the Government for political benefit to JVP without caring that such unfounded criticism allow the foreign enemies of Sri Lanka to find confirmation of their prejudices against Sri Lanka.
He had said, that, “ …the international community has been interfering in Sri Lankan affairs in the recent past and the visit by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to Sri Lanka was part of that interference…..and that “ … the government, at the same time, is violating human rights in Sri Lanka … the government should protect human rights and democracy to prevent outside interference, and that “ … the JVP does not support either the government or Pillay.
Another person on whom Navi Pillai may have relied upon to make her uncalled for remark is Veerasan Yogeswaran, a 60-year-old Jesuit priest who runs the Centre for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, who had told AFP from his home in Trincomalee, that five or six plainclothes policemen visited him at midnight and before dawn, just hours after the meeting with Pillay. He had added that , “The concern is that they are going to homes at midnight and questioning people".
That was just his statement without any verifiable evidence.
The other source of interest that may have provoked Navi Pillay’s comment about Sri Lanka heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction ” in other terms “a Dictatorship” is perhaps the result of her “pow-wow “ with our erstwhile champion of the “ West” Ranil Wickramasinghe, being carried away in a political flood water is trying to hold onto any “ straw” to escape into a safe haven.
It was reported that, the “….Discussions between UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay and the main Opposition last afternoon had focused essentially on post-war erosion of democracy.
Ranil Wickramasinghe had also said, that the United National Party has “a draft bill to re-enact 17A (it)was ready and could be passed in Parliament as an urgent bill since it would be certain of obtaining the necessary support.”
He had said to the reporters, that “We spoke a lot about the freedom of the press,”. The UNP officials who participated in the discussions had said that they, “raised recent incidents of attacks on the independent media, including the attack on the residence of a senior Sunday Leader journalist and the blockade on the website Colombo Telegraph.”
They said they had also focussed, on, “ the deterioration of democratic values, the breakdown of the rule of law and the increase in religious intolerance. The violence in Weliweriya also came up in the discussions.”
The UNP Deputy Leade Karu Jaya suriya had told the reporters, “the party had emphasised the need to re-establish democracy after the defeat of the LTTE. “As the party that ushered independence to Sri Lanka, the UNP has every right to speak of the current democratic crisis in the country” The people of Sri Lanka specially those who vote UNP should see through the falsity of UNP as a National PoliticalParty and reject them at the next general elections.
However, that was enough grist to the mill, and Navi Pillay perhaps made use of UNP sounding of a democratic crisis to crown her prejudices by stating that “…Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction.”
However, in another development elsewhere with Ven. Maduluwawe Sobhitha meeting the US Ambassador Michele Sission (another Robert O’Blake), they had an hour long discussion on a 10-point proposal by the National Movement for Social Justice (NMSJ) for reforms, including the abolition of the Executive Presidency.
The 10 points have similarities to the discussions UNP had with Navineetham Pillay, and this too would have been reported to Navi Pillay for her overall conclusions after visit to Sri Lanka.
Reading through Pillay’s report, it appears that she could have made it without any visit to Sri Lanka as she has apparently learnt nothing from her visit that could have changed her pre-conceived ideas about Sri Lanka, except that she has developed a new notion of Sri Lanka heading towards a Dictatorship.