State agents are acting with impunity against public figures with no fear of popular reprisal. That signifies a change in the methods of the Deep State. Evidently, all pretences have been dropped. What we are up against now is a fully fledged police state and these words are not used lightly either.


By

Kishali Pinto-Jayawardene

Hawks may cry till the cows come home (to horribly malign that popular idiom) but as another ‘Geneva session’ takes place with the customary trumpeting, a few home truths must be recognised, as unpalatable as those may be.

Geneva promises defeated by action at home

Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs Minister who also doubled up as the personal lawyer of former President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa not so long ago, has bleated his ‘reassurances’ of preserving democracy before the 31st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council a few days earlier. But he must surely understand how hollow his words sound, even to himself. There is no point in mouthing the promise that, ‘notwithstanding severe constraints and challenges, Sri Lanka remains firmly committed to pursuing tangible progress in the protection of human rights and reconciliation through independent domestic institutions.’

What do those words even mean, pray? Are politicians so immune to common sense if not a basic sense of reality that they fail to comprehend the absurdities of their own lies? This is a rhetorical question, let me be clear. It is very obvious that they are, in fact, so immune. But even as a nod to our own sanity, we must ask the question as to how and in what manner can Sri Lanka promise to secure ‘human rights’ and ’reconciliation’ when the State has directed its formidable guns under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) on citizens exercising the right to peaceful protest in the heart of Colombo?

That threats and intimidation was evidenced for many decades against Tamil and Muslim minorities are well documented. Proceeding from that, we have state agents acting with impunity against public figures with no fear of popular reprisal. That signifies a change in the methods of the Deep State. Evidently, all pretences have been dropped. What we are up against now is a fully fledged police state and these words are not used lightly either.

Holding the political leadership paralysed in popular fury

The very purpose of such arrests and detentions is to break the spine of dissent. President Ranil Wickremesinghe may stubbornly hold to his premise that, arrested and detained persons belong to the ‘violent’ if not ‘fascist’ factions of the ‘Aragalaya.’

No doubt much of this political fury is driven by astonishment of the political establishment of which he is very much a part, at the sheer effrontery of what the ‘Aragalaya’ achieved. Despite mistaken directions of that movement, influenced by unwise political alignments towards the end which also proved to be its undoing, its gains are unmistakable.

For the first time, a united Sri Lanka held the political leadership paralysed in the face of monumental popular fury directed against corrupt, venal and racist political leaders. That victory has not dissipated, let it be said strongly. We may lament setbacks which are inevitable. But the truth of that extraordinary moment of collective unity before which politicians shivered, should remain as an example of what can be achieved when political propaganda fails in its aim.

Meanwhile, the President’s defence that the law is working quite properly against the protestors is proved quite wrong as evidence overwhelmingly establishes. More and more as he holds forth in a similar vein, we are irresistibly reminded of the drowning man who refuses to accept a lifeline flung to him on the basis that the water is not yet reaching his throat. What he says simply cannot be accepted in terms of the reality before us. And again, we return to that ‘reality’ versus the ‘unreality’ of empty words that emanate from the mouths of Sri Lanka’s politicians.
Absurdities in the name of the State

Peaceful leaders of protests are arrested and detained on various charges ranging from ‘illegal’ entry into State buildings to merely being seen at protest sites. Judges have repeatedly cautioned that just selecting ten or twenty citizens among the surge of the thousands who went into State buildings as the Gotabaya Presidency collapsed a few months ago, is not justifiable. Their cautions have gone disregarded. And this week, we went from deadly comedy to Sartre-like farce when a lawyer was arrested by trigger-happy policemen for tooting his horn in the classic ‘Aragalaya’ tune of ‘kaputu, kaak, kaak.’

That tune was a mocking refrain aimed at the former Minister of Finance, a particularly disliked member of the Rajapaksa dynasty. On that same logic, bus drivers and train drivers who tooted that same refrain must also be arrested. Noise protests have been held to be constitutional in umpteen cases by the Supreme Court, in one instance in favour of protests by the adored paterfamilias of the Rajapaksa dynasty, Mahinda Rajapaksa no less.

One must pity the magistrates before whom these absurd cases land.On this occasion of the lawyer’s arrest, the magistrate had reportedly and rightly warned the police to ‘understand the law’ prior to filing cases. That warning must be directed by the public, not only at moronic police minions but at the highest levels of the State, the office of the Presidency, the Prime Minister and sundry Ministers who, we are told, will increase in greater numbers very soon.


Active distrust of the political leadership

For very good reason, mistrust if not active hatred of the cumulative political leadership has transcended ethnic and racial boundaries. In other words, Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims are equally bound by their intense dislike for leaders whom they see as having ‘robbed the country blind’ and are still continuing to do so. Talk of ‘reconciliation’ in Geneva by the optimistic Minister tasked with managing Sri Lanka’s Foreign Affairs or what is left of it, is peculiarly ironic therefore.

That collective mistrust will not decrease by the waves of repression that the Wickremesinghe Presidency is directing towards young protestors who agitated on the streets for a change in the political culture. In sum, heavy woes inflicting Sri Lanka in the garb of ‘international pressure’ would have been largely avoidable if a smidgen of commonsense if not concern for the citizenry had been evidenced by political leaders.

To be clear, this is true from the very first time that this nation faced calls for accountability in regard to ‘universal crimes,’ in other words, the committing of torture and war crimes legally acknowledged as transcending national boundaries. In the backdrop of the Wanni war between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan State and majoritarian triumphalism by the Rajapaksas following the military defeat of the LTTE in 2009, ‘Geneva’ became a term of abuse in the South.


A new edge to ‘Geneva’ pressure

Even so, amnesia reigned on the part of blindly opportunistic supporters of the ruling regime in regard to the fact that, ‘Geneva’ had been a rallying point much earlier, by Mahinda Rajapaksa when he campaigned as an opposition parliamentarian against the killings of the Southern youth. That was during the insurrection of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) in the nineteen eighties where he travelled to ‘Geneva’ and faced harassment at the Katunayake airport, as a seminal judgement of the Supreme Court, which Rajapaksa filed to his benefit at the time, reminds us.

Regardless, it was more convenient to forget that very awkward reminder of the past. This time around and in the wake of an unprecedented collapse of the country’s economy, a new edge is evidenced to that pressure. The Core Group on Sri Lanka has pronounced itself ready to ‘assist and support’ the investigation and prosecution of public officials and former public officials implicated in gross corruption. When we have no national integrity to speak of in terms of how law enforcement works domestically, such interventions will only increase.

Putting our own house in order is the core issue. That is what ought to be fixed. But – with devastating predictability – it never is.

Courtesy:Sunday Times