Mob Justice

A common feeling shared by the hundreds of television viewers who watched the real life drama of tit for tat violence erupting at the SLRC, Thursday, must have been: “He deserves what he got!”

The protagonist in this publicly viewed encounter between an enraged politician and his henchmen on one hand, and media personnel and their supporters on the other, was of course the controversial Deputy Minister Mervyn Silva, who, as we all know, is no stranger to battles between the media and politicians.

However, it was not until Thursday, that his frequent and virulent outbursts against the media, received more than just a verbal comeback.

Even for a man who prefers to use brute force, when it comes to resolving a personal problem, it was obvious that the irascible minister had crossed the line.

This was when he made his unprovoked physical attack on the SLRC News Director, which resulted in an unprecedented retaliatory assault on him and his henchmen, by the enraged staff and media personnel.

The crime that caused the Minister to go berserk, was that the SLRC News Director had failed to broadcast a speech he had delivered when opening a bridge at Matara.

By forcing himself into the SLRC office Thursday, and allegedly ordering his personal security officer to assault the SLRC News Director, T.M.G. Chandrasekara, for this act of omission, which it now appears was equivalent to a serious crime by an employee of a State owned media institute, Silva himself was guilty of three crimes:

a) Violating the News Director’s right to decide on what news should be aired and what should not
b) Obstructing the right of freedom of expression by the media
c) Violating Chandrasekera’s right of protection from all forms of violence.

Acting on impulse and perhaps, pushed beyond the point of endurance, by constant State interference from demanding politicians of Silva’s ilk, it is not surprising that the staff of SLRC decided to take the law into their own hands and mete out justice in a manner they felt justified the crime.

By handing out a lukewarm apology to his assailants, which Silva allegedly did, after his gruelling experience, when he said, “I will apologise to the Rupavahini staff, if you think I have made a mistake…”, was simply not enough, being more an insult than an apology.

If any real good has to come out of this incident, then the government too must accept responsibility and accountability for the mistakes of its ministers and make a public apology to the SLRC staff and its News Director. This must be accompanied by a sincere promise that it would not interfere with media freedom in the future.

It must go a step further and punish the offender, by either stripping him of his title or sacking him from the party.
If however, it fails to act, and prefers to distance itself from Silva’s high handed act, as in the past, it would be guilty of hampering media freedom, and aiding and abetting lawlessness and crime.

Thus, while this paper does not condone the kind of ‘mob justice’ that was meted out to the errant minister, Thursday’s fiasco raises some important issues and questions.
As recent events have shown, the phenomenon of people taking the law into their hands to mete out ‘mob justice’, is now a growing and frightening trend in this country.

The question is why? Does the fault lie with the lawmakers? The law implementers? Or, because the government prefers to turn a blind eye and, is in fact, tacitly encouraging the law breakers in their acts of crime, in order to cover up its own track record of corruption, and other flagrant acts of infringement of the law, committed by its own ministers- even those at the very top?

Examples abound of instances where politicians and other VIP’s found guilty of corruption, and even assault and murder, have gone scot-free, without even being fined, because the law was bent or amended by the State itself. This invasion of State assisted corruption has seeped through every fabric of governance.

Thursday’s episode, where ordinary citizens decided to take the law into their own hands, is a sure sign that for the country as a whole, “Enough is enough”. If the State continues to turn a blind eye to acts of crime against the people, then the people have no alternative but to take the law into their own hands. Mob justice can only result in a state of anarchy in this country, a situation we would dread to see happening .

The time is now ripe for the government to clean up its act, and open its eyes to the rampant corruption that surrounds it. It must put an end to all State assisted crimes, and ensure that every law breaker, (whether politician, VIP or ordinary citizen), is punished, in keeping with the nature of his/her crime.

By doing so, it will be able to restore the faith of the public, and convince them that the solution to ending crimes is not by taking the law into their own hands.

Most importantly, it will prevent our country from slipping into an anarchic state in the near future, signs of which have already been indicated by Thursday’s fiasco.