Posted on January 11th, 2017

Editorial The Island 

The self-proclaimed champions of good governance or yahapalana have laid bare their true faces once again. It was only the other day that President Maithripala Sirisena waxed eloquent, at a ceremony to mark the second anniversary of his assumption of office, on what he called benefits that had accrued to the public from the change of government in 2015. He stressed that media freedom was one of them. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and other government leaders, also, never miss an opportunity to preen themselves on the newly introduced right to information law; they claim media freedom has flourished on their watch. But, they themselves belied their own claim in Hambantota last Saturday.

It has now been revealed that the Prime Ministerial Security Division (PMSD), which seized a drone belonging to Hiru TV, has disabled its memory chip so that no aerial pictures stored therein can be retrieved. When the PMSD grabbed the drone a la Mervyn Silva last Saturday, Director General of Government Information Ranga Kalansuriya promptly claimed it had been in the air without an owner. But, the fact remains that it was launched at least two kilometres away from the place where the VVIPs were present and caused no security concerns. It was seized for political reasons.

The very fact that the drone was returned to its rightful owner is proof that there had been no infraction on the part of the Hiru television crew; else they would have been hauled up before courts and even remanded. There would have been no need for the PM’s guards to disable the chip if it had not contained visuals which could have been used against their political masters. So much for the government’s commitment to right to information!

The despicable manner in which police acted in Hambantota on Saturday reminded us of the Mulkirigala by-election in 1985. The then UNP government bussed many of its Colombo-based thugs to the Hambantota District for ‘election work’; they were led by Gonawala Sunil, a convicted rapist pardoned by President J. R. Jayewardene while he was serving a jail term for raping a teenage girl. The irate people of Mulkirigala took on the criminals, who ran for their dear lives. A police curfew was declared in the area and the cornered rapist and his confederates were removed to Colombo with a police escort! On Saturday, many persons described as pro-government thugs from Colombo were seen operating alongside the riot police in Hambantota.

One’s gorge rises when the Joint Opposition (JO) bigwigs pontificate on the virtues of democracy and the rule of law. While in power they strove to defend the indefensible and dupe the masses. The then UPFA Mayor of Hambantota Eraj Fernando was shown on television, brandishing a small firearm and chasing a group of UNP MPs in full view of a large crowd under the Rajapaksa government, in April 2014. Those who are shedding copious tears for democracy now had no qualms about claiming that he had been carrying a toy pistol of all things! (Eraj has since switched his allegiance to President Sirisena, who appointed him the Beliatte SLFP organiser!)

IGP Pujith Jayasundera has done it again! We thought he would refrain from courting public criticism after making a spectacle of himself in Ratnapura, where he was caught on camera, obsequiously assuring a minister over the phone that a suspect would not be arrested. But, he chose to make a public display of his servility again last Saturday in Hambantota. He was seen barking orders and directing police action obviously in a bid to curry favour with the powers that be. He can now rest assured that the government will return his favour. What made him go all the way to Hambantota on that day? Did he think that unless he was physically present there his men would handle protesters gently?

Where are the civil society outfits which raked the Rajapaksa government over the coals—and rightly so—for attacks on protests and media freedom? Their silence is deafening. Has the cat got their tongues?

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