|Free at last
One hundred and nineteen days. Nearly
four months. Two thousand eight hundred and fifty six hours.
That was how long Munusami Parameshwari stayed in custody before
Sri Lankan courts vindicated her last week. She spent that time
inside prison walls, while the world outside speculated on her
arrest, threw wild theories of ‘terrorist-supporter’ around and
international media and human rights watchdogs kept a keen eye
on the proceedings of her case.
And her crime? She was the convenient victim in a game of evil
politicking – the Tamil journalist in a sea of Sinhalese heads
at a newspaper that the Government was beginning to see as a
detractor it could not tolerate, arrested under the most popular
manthram used to justify arbitrary arrests: links to the LTTE.
Long before her case came up for judgement, certain state
newspapers, wanna-be anti-terrorists and other elements taking
refuge under the banner of ‘patriotism’ were quick to put
Parameshwari on trial, assume her guilt and complete her
sentencing. Indeed, the ‘anti-terror’ lobby egged the Government
on, agitating for the arrest of all other ‘media Tigers.’.
And yet today, not only has Parameshwari been released and the
investigation suspended because of a lack of evidence, but the
highest court in the land has decreed that the young journalist
has been wronged by the state and upheld her fundamental rights
as enshrined in the constitution.
The question that must arise now among clairvoyants and
conspiracy theorists is ‘what went wrong?’ As for the
Government, the time has come, some would say, for some deep
introspection; to decide in this moment whether this campaign
against a media organisation and its boss, now almost certainly
a witch hunt, is really worth the fall out both internationally
and among its own people.
Some would say that when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was elected
to office in November 2005, he brought a lot of baggage with
him. To begin with, his was a mandate that was not endorsed by
the people of the north and east, who were forced to boycott the
poll by LTTE cadres. It was also no secret that if the northern
and eastern peoples had been allowed to exercise their
franchise, Mahinda Rajapaksa would not have been the man sitting
in that chair today. No doubt this truth came home to Rajapaksa
himself as he watched the results of that election unfold.
Rajapaksa came to office with many tags on him – he was dubbed
hardliner, pro-Sinhala and a politician with no clear policy on
which to tackle the economy or peace. Under the circumstances,
some would also say that Mahinda Rajapaksa had a point to prove.
He had to show the people that while he was no Ranil
Wickremesinghe type pushover for the LTTE, he was also a leader
of state committed to ending 20 years of bloodshed and ensuring
a just solution for the Tamil people.
Having shown remarkable restraint in the early days of his
presidency, Rajapaksa looked set to play the role of statesman.
But as gathering war clouds began to darken our horizons, the
Government shifted gear, looking set to live up to the
‘hardline’ tag they had earned themselves in the run up to the
presidential election. Today, it has become a Government ready
and ever willing to take refuge under the slogan, ‘we are at
war’. Indeed, the reintroduction of anti-terror laws have only
aided and what looks like Government moves to harass and
intimidate critics of the establishment.
As if over eager to prove its ‘hardline’ stance, the
Government’s first media victim was Parameshwari. The Government
was making an example of Parameshwari because she worked for a
newspaper that had suddenly turned hostile towards the
administration. She was also conveniently Tamil and invariably
easier to arrest under the anti-terror emergency laws.
Parameshwari may have been a journalist first, but she is also
by birth a member of the Tamil community – a group of citizens
the Government needs to work extra hard to reassure that this
war is not being waged against a single ethnic group, but
against a ruthless terrorist outfit. In arresting Parameshwari
and with the courts having then released her, the Government has
lost tremendous face – not only because a make-believe
investigation has been laid bare by the judiciary, but also
because the move has further alienated the Tamil community. It
is also a further blow to the Government’s dismal human rights
record, which is being held up to scrutiny worldwide.
All this gloom and doom notwithstanding, Parameshwari’s case
also signals a degree of hope; hope that although certain arms
of the Government may harass the innocent, the judiciary will be
standing firmly on the side of the citizen. Our sympathies and
well-wishes remain with Parameshwari. We salute her valour and
hope that the hand of justice meted out to her so far will go
some distance in pouring balm on the ignominies she may have
suffered. We know her battles are far from over, but we shall
all take courage from the knowledge that while harassment and
bullying might hold sway at this juncture of our history, in the
end, truth shall win the day.
The SLFP has further delayed its
proposals to the All Party Representative Committee on its
recommendations for a political solution to the ethnic conflict.
The APRC, headed by Minister Tissa Vitarana has been awaiting
these proposals for months now and the process has stagnated but
the SLFP does not appear to be in any hurry. With the April
holidays coming up and the country going on vacation for at
least three weeks, there is going to be no sign of the proposals
for some time to come.
None of this bodes very well for the fate of the APRC or the
commitment to coming up with a political solution to put forward
to the people of the north east. Instead, the thrust appears to
on the military front, where the Government appears to be going
all guns blazing to recapture land and ‘liberate’ the people.
But there are different kinds of liberation in the world. We can
also aim to liberate by offering the people of the north east
justice. We can free them from the yoke of war and allow them to
live their lives without the threat of displacement or maiming
by weaponry. Most importantly, justice and liberation that comes
in the form of a genuine addressing of the Tamil grievances will
forever diminish the people’s need for an armed group to be
fighting the state on their behalf. Wars on terror cannot be
fought on military fronts alone and we cannot execute a war
against our own people forever. The best defence the Government
has against the LTTE is to offer the Tamil people a taste of
justice for which they have been agitating for half a century.
Killing festers vengeance and violence begets violence.
Political settlement is the only path to a permanent peace.