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Analysis

      The Time of the Thugs


I am resolved to not go gently into what is more
and more a darkness at noon, rather than that
good night, and rage, rage against the dying
of the light — Dr. Saravanamuttu

By Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu

In the last fortnight I personally and directly experienced the more vicious and thuggish expressions of the politics of hate and harm and hurt. In the space of two weeks I received an anonymous death threat in the post and in common parlance, was detained at the airport on the instructions of the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID).  

These two incidents are clearly unrelated and therefore merely coincidental in the span of a fortnight – the death threat is anonymous, the TID is a stalwart arm of the state. They however, constitute a chilling illustration of the potential costs and likely consequences of daring to dissent in this our beloved land.  Daring to dissent and to constructively critique the prevailing orthodoxy and in doing so outlining an alternative vision and future for Sri Lanka, is what I believe I do and in the strongest conviction of it being an affirmation and celebration of our democracy, rather than an act of treason against the motherland.

I have written to the powers that be about the death threat and made an entry regarding it at my local police station.  An investigation, I assume is proceeding. I have attempted to make contact with the TID, but have been unsuccessful so far.  Greatly appreciative of the support and solidarity of friends and colleagues, I continue to dare to dissent and to celebrate our democracy, precisely because it is in dire peril.

Every act of intimidation, abduction, detention and killing is a grave and nasty threat to what is left of our democracy.  Every act of intimidation, abduction, detention and killing that goes undeterred and uninvestigated reinforces the culture of impunity and nurtures further violations of rights.  The culture of impunity is a cancer that will destroy any pretence we have of being a decent, democratic or humane society.

Grisly catalogue

What I have been the target of in this unfortunately, memorable fortnight pales into insignificance in the context of the grisly catalogue of crimes and violations fellow citizens have endured, continue to do so and fallen victim to from the Wanni to Angulana,  from Tissainayagam to Lasantha Wickrematunge and others numbering in, yes, thousands.  

This must stop. But it does not.  It is the Time of the Thugs and it will be so indefinitely, if we allow ourselves to be suffocated by collective cognitive dissonance.

The death threat was anonymous.  It contained gross distortions of the position taken in public by my organisation, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) and I on the extension of the GSP Plus trade concession.  GSP Plus is based on the ratification and effective implementation of some 27 human rights instruments and international labour standards.  As part of the terms of the extension, the EU could launch an “investigation” – the term used in the GSP Plus document – into this and in the case of Sri Lanka chose to do so in respect of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention Against Torture (CAT) and the Child Rights Convention (CRC).  

The position taken by CPA and I is that a win/win outcome of the issue is entirely possible, desirable and indeed necessary. The trade concession can be extended and human rights protection strengthened.  No zero-sum outcome need even be contemplated.

Accused

I am accused in the letter of supplying information to the External Affairs Commissioner of the EU with the objective of denying Sri Lanka an extension of the concession. Therefore I have to be killed.  The letter makes the rather curious point that in my particular case the government will NOT be involved. No one, it goes on to say, will be able to identify my would be murderers, who claim to be acting on behalf of families in the garment sector who will be impoverished as a consequence of my dastardly deed. 

By going to the extent of explicitly absolving the government of the crime to be committed, the criminals though preferring cowardly anonymity are bold enough to insinuate that the government is involved in crimes of this nature!  Perhaps this will invest the investigation with greater urgency and purpose; perhaps this is an occasion for a robust affirmation of the government’s commitment to human rights, rule of law and good governance? The sheer chutzpah of these creatures of the culture or is it, cult of impunity!

In the airport incident, I was confounded by the information that instructions to question and detain me had been issued as far back as February.  I have been through Katunayake airport on numerous occasions since then and in the country too for months at a stretch. Why did the TID not contact me earlier and why was I not detained at the airport on any number of earlier occasions since February?  Does the answer lie in the realms of incompetence, quiet corners of discretion, in some twilight zone or in the heart of darkness given so unreservedly to impunity?

Contact the TID

 I may or I may never know.  I was allowed to leave and told in response to my repeated inquiries as to what it was all about, to get in contact with the TID in Colombo. This, I continue to try to do. 

What is it all about?  Was there a mistake made or a message conveyed?  Assuming the latter, am I to behave differently? Delve deep into the inner recesses of my memory to unearth some act that could be construed as treasonable, some contact who turned out to be a terrorist, a colleague who turned out to be tragically misguided or continue to dare to dissent and affirm our democratic rights?

On turning 51 today, I am resolved to not go gently into what is more and more a darkness at noon, rather than that good night, and rage, rage against the dying of the light.

 

 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 

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