January 8 is a day of triple significance for us Sri Lankans. It is the birth date of Sri Lanka Freedom Party Founder President and former Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike who was born 1899. It is also the day on which the country faces a crucial presidential election when the people will have the opportunity of making an informed choice, in electing Sri Lanka’s new president for the next six years, keeping in mind the future direction of this Island Nation and the future of our children and our children’s children.
It is also on a day such as this in 2009 that Sunday Leader Newspaper’s fearless and candidly outspoken Editor LasanthaWickramatunga was brutally murdered in broad daylight near a High Security Zone at Ratmalana while on his way to work. His crime was his refusal to bow down to the powers-that-be or to be cowed down by them. His many well documented and audacious exposes of fraud and corruption and the use and abuse of state resources rattled and gnawed at the conscience of those in authority and their sycophants. Lasantha’s disclosures pricked their conscience and deflated their pumped up egos sealing his fate when they could not stomach it any longer.
Lasantha’s journalism called power to account by pulling aside the curtains so that the people could peep into what was happening behind the facades and under the rocks. We need this kind of journalism so that they will be well armed with the information to fight injustice.
"Lasantha’s journalism called power to account by pulling aside the curtains so that the people could peep into what was happening behind the facades and under the rocks. We need this kind of journalism so that they will be well armed with the information to fight injustice"
The following are excerpts from a powerful and moving editorial Lasantha wrote was published posthumously a week after his car was obstructed by assassins who arrived on motorbikes and bludgeoned him to death:
“No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.
“I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader’s 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by protagonists whose bloodlust knows no bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists; tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.
“Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to revert to the bar, and goodness knows it offers a better and safer livelihood. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics, going so far as to offer me ministries of my choice. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for I have not been stuck for choice.
“But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they are ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted.
“An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niem”ller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niem”ller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed.
“While incarcerated, Niem”ller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:
“First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
This Government which times without end continues to boast of having destroyed the world’s ruthless terrorist outfit has failed to arrest and prosecute those who so callously and ruthlessly snuffed out Lasantha’s life at the young age of 50.
In today’s political culture we have seen and continue to see attacks on opposition election rallies and the attacks on people who refuse to collude with the Government. These activities are bound to create doubts in the minds of the people about a level playing field for all candidates and the holding of a free and fair election.
Sri Lanka is composed of people from multi-ethnic, multi-racial and multi-religious backgrounds and it goes without saying that they are bound to hold dissenting views. That’s a people’s birth right and it is the government’s responsibility to foster unity in diversity without cultivating the differences for its political ends.
“Do not think of knocking out another person’s brains because he differs in opinion from you. It would be as rational to knock yourself on the head because you differ from yourself ten years ago.” Horace Mann
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