Stop the Hate Campaign Against Sri Lanka!

0
118

The US State Department owes Sri Lanka an explanation for disallowing former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa from returning to the US. He had been living in the States since 1998. For 16 years, he was a US citizen and only renounced his citizenship to contest at the 2019 presidential campaign. 

This was a straightforward process, as he lived as an exemplary US citizen. He contributed to the US economy and paid all taxes and other dues to the US Government. He is without any record of criminal offences. 

While residing in America, he regularly volunteered at the community’s soup kitchens and was deeply disturbed to meet many US veterans coming into the shelter for a hot meal. They are without the level of support needed to combat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)and other injuries sustained during combat. As such, these veterans have difficulties retaining employment, even if most are educated. Hence, many are rendered homeless. 

According to studies conducted by the leading review journal in public health Epidemiologic Reviews, “most recent estimates report that veterans are slightly overrepresented in the US homeless population with veterans constituting 12.3% of all homeless adults in the United States but only 9.7% of the total US population…. since at least the late 1980s.”

Gotabaya always rendered his full support within his capacity to the soldier-Sri Lankan or American, veteran or in-service. After the conclusion of the war against terrorism in Sri Lanka, as the Defence Secretary, he ensured that the Sri Lankan soldier received the best possible care within Sri Lanka’s means. The 14,500 ex-LTTEcadres too received the same care as they were rehabilitated and returned to the society with the necessary skill and education to live with dignity. 

When he visited the US as the Executive President of Sri Lanka in September 2021, he attended the special commemorative event at the Manhattan Memorial to mark the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11. He thus signified his empathy towards ordinary American citizens. 

It was always his plan after serving as the Sri Lankan President to return to the US to live with his son, who is an engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Therefore, Mr Gotabaya is not seeking entry into the US to live in some rabbit hole, under the radar. He has no reason to do so, for he did not leave Sri Lanka as a fugitive. 

Here lies the interesting question: exactly why did the then President of Sri Lanka, with executive powers and the Commander-in-Chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces leave Sri Lanka and resign from position before the conclusion of his term?

Peaceful Protesters or Unruly Mob? 

Throughout these four to five months, those who had been protesting against the Gotabaya Administration have been marketed as “peaceful” by powerful factions like a section of the media, the West and West influenced civil societies, and certain political, social and religious leaders. In the same breath, it is being gloated that President Gotabaya “fled” the country to escape from the protestors. 

Here lies the confusion.If the protesters were “peaceful,” then why should the President of the country “flee”? If the President resigned respecting the demand of peaceful protesters, then President Gotabaya is a true champion of democracy. Then, the US State Department is without a justifiable cause or reason to deny Gotabaya his visa. 

President Gotabaya was not without options. He could have, like President Chandrika Kumaratunga did, blocked all entry points to Colombo. Instead, he allowed people to come right up to his doorstep. He could have used fire power, even brought out the tanks as China did to curtail the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Even the then Indian PM Rajiv Gandhi in 1989 parked his naval vessels with his military right outside the Galle Face to rescue and evacuate then President J.R.Jayewardene if public protests against the Indo-Lanka Accord turned violent and physically threatened the President.

It is noteworthy that Gotabaya left the Island in a military aircraft. He could do so as he was not fleeing from the law. Even though he was the Commander-in-Chief of the Tri-Forces, the military is beholden to its own military laws. As such, not even the seniormost or highest-ranking officer can break the law without being Court-martialled. 

Therefore, if the then President “fled,”then obviously he did so to escape physical harm from a violent mob. Thus, it is obvious that the protesters were not “peaceful” but a violent mob who would have unhesitatingly harmed him grievously as they did to young MP Amarakeerthi Athukorala from the Polonnaruwa District. 

It was this same crowd that killed an innocent dog,that posed harm to none as it was beaten to death while tethered with a leash and a harness. The poor creature met its gruesome death because its owner was the then Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe, who was also under pressure from the agitators to resign from Office. If this crowd could not spare even a dog, then even the most unobtrusive First Lady Ioma Rajapaksa’s life was in danger, simply for being President Gotabaya’s wife. 

Protesters’ character certificate

These mobsters’ violent record includes, 

31 March 2022: President Gotabaya’s private residence was attacked as mobsters tried to force their way in, armed with sticks and sharp objects. Afterwards, the neighbourhood resembled a war zone; 

19 April 2022: several junctions in various parts of the Island were almost simultaneously blocked by protesters demanding fuel. The situation in Rambukkana, despite the Police’s efforts went awry even after 15 hours of grappling with the situation to bring it under control. The rioters pelted the Police with rocks, causing 20 Police personnel to sustain injuries, with 14 requiring hospitalisation. Two bowsers carrying fuel were damaged with its tires and engine removed. There was an attempt to set one on fire. When tear gas proved ineffective, the Police were compelled to shoot, resulting in the death of one;

9 May 2022: provoked by the then PM Mahinda Rajapaksa’s supporters’ attack, hunted down the supporters, the violent reprisals included beating with poles, stripping some naked, and keeping others dunked in the Beira Lake the whole day, also assaulted a senior DIG, flogged young MP Athukorala to death, and destroyed numerous vehicles and properties of 73 government MPs. 

9 July 2022: looted and destroyed Wickremesinghe’s rare collection of manuscripts and paintings, mercilessly killed his dog, and set his home on fire. 

These mobsters’ deliberate actions are making the country ungovernable. Not only did they force democratically and legitimately elected President and Premier to resign from Office under duress, they are rejecting the present powers. Yet, they are without an alternate, viable proposal either. Their actions thus are leading the country into anarchy. 

The Hate Campaign against Sri Lanka 

President Gotabaya was foolish not to recognise the threat they posed to democracy. According to dissident MP Wimal Weerawansa, he did so as he did not want to jeopardise his chance to return to the States. This innocent but utterly self-serving wish was exploited by US Ambassador Julie Chung, charges Weerawansa. The US Embassy has not denied or clarified this accusation. 

This silence has accentuated the possible motive for marketing the anarchists as “peaceful protestors” and criticising the Government for its countermeasures by Western envoys, civil societies and Colombo elite under their influence. The Government’s efforts to bring these violent elements under control and establish normalcy has been deliberately misconstrued. 

According to Human Rights Watch,“The Sri Lankan Government is using emergency regulations to harass and arbitrarily detain activists seeking political reform and accountability for the country’s economic crisis.”None in the aforementioned group admit to the ground realities that include the destruction to State property or threats to the legislators’ lives. This then amounts to a wilful hate campaign against Sri Lanka. 

President Ranil Wickremesinghe’s efforts to direct the envoys to verify social media threads from proper authorities has also been misconstrued as “berating” the diplomats. However, President Wickremesinghe was correct to air his concerns over these lopsided commentary for it damages our country’s reputation. The general consensus is that as diplomats and entities as the HRW are independent they do not have an agenda outside their mandate. Hence, their words carry an inherent credibility and more weight than a President’s press statement. 

However, justifying criminal behaviour can have dangerous repercussions, for it can easily boomerang on the promoters. Such warnings should not be taken as any form of instigating violence against those who insist the anarchists as “peaceful protesters.”

Peaceful protests should not entail brutal killings of lawmakers, innocent pets, or even misled youth. peaceful protesters would disallow the destruction of State and private properties and allowed a democratically elected President’s fate to be decided democratically. Mob rule cannot be accommodated at any point in the democratic spectrum. 

Likewise, ardent advocates of democracy as the US cannot but uphold the US Constitution’s First Amendment-the freedom of expression.Yet, freedom is not a free commodity. It must be exercised with responsibility for the consequences. If one does not appreciate a “Go Gama” project on them,then they should not endorse it on another. Therefore, those who defend “Go Gama” and related projects on the basis of a democratic right must also uphold the law and the right for both sides of the divide to live in peace. 

President Gotabaya did not allow any harm to befall on his detractors. Instead, he chose to resign from Office. Right up to the last moment, his efforts were to restore the supply lines for essentials. Hence, irrespective of one’s opinion on President Gotabaya’s governance or politics,all must uphold former President Gotabaya’s wish to return to his family. 

[email protected] 

(The views and opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Ceylon Today)

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe