imal Weerawansa has warned that we are now ‘losing our hard-earned freedom’. In a public rally held in Kandy on Friday to campaign for the prime-ministerial candidacy of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Rajapaksa confidante asked people to get behind the ex-president to win their freedom back.
I have been wondering as to what ‘freedom’ Mr. Weerawansa has been talking about.
Finally, I managed to jot down some of those potential ‘freedoms’ he could have meant.
Of course, there may be omissions and Mr Weerawansa is welcomed to let me know anything that is missing.
There was ‘freedom’ of abduction and extra-judicial killings under the previous regime. Some disturbing details of white van abductions in the past are now being revealed.
An abduction ring that operated under a special operation unit of the Navy is now being investigated.
According to sources close to the investigation, this unit has abducted rich Tamils who were planning to go abroad.
An employee of a travel agency has tipped off the members of the unit about the wealthy Tamil young men and women based on financial information they provided in their visa applications. The unit then abducted young men and demanded ransom for their release.
Without the change in the government, those killers would never have been brought to justice. One should wonder why the CID took nearly five years to reveal the results of the investigation. The habeas corpus of Rajeev Naganathan, one of the victims was filed in court in 2011.
Powers that be in the defence ministry did not want the culpability of its men on those abductions be made known to the public, for that it would besmirch the Navy’s image. Much was at stake since the first suspect, who has now admitted abducting 28 youth, and evidence for 11 of which have been found, happened to be the former personal security officer of the then Navy Commander Wasantha Karannagoada.
Weerawansa in his twisted mind thinks that is freedom. We call it impunity, which Sri Lanka had in abundance under the previous regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother Gotabaya.
There was also ‘freedom’ to massacre. The alleged summary execution of inmates after the prison riot in Welikada two years back is now being investigated.
There were well substantiated reports then that some inmates were picked from their cells by the STF and were summarily executed after the prison riot in November 2012.
Now the new government has ordered a fresh investigation into the circumstances of the death of 27 inmates, who were killed during and after the riot.
There were other lesser ‘freedoms’ such as regular custodial deaths (in many cases, suspects jumped into rivers with their handcuffs on) and custodial torture that was prevalent during the previous regime.
Goons, politicians, thugs and armed men enjoyed the unrestricted ‘freedom’ to abduct, assault and murder journalists, dissidents and political opponents as well as to bomb and torch media institutions. State media was also ‘ free’ to engage in character assassinations of political opponents of the regime.
There was also ‘freedom’ enjoyed exclusively by the family of the ex- president and their cronies to siphon public money to the tune of 5 billion US dollars (Rs 700 billion) to overseas bank accounts, according to some estimates.
Mr. Weerawansa is right that ‘freedom’ also no longer exists. Some of the members of the president’s coterie are now being investigated for large scale corruption and embezzlement.
But, Mr Weerawansa should not entirely be pessimistic. There is still chance that the first family and their coterie could well escape the judicial process unscathed. Perhaps, a few small fish get a hefty jail term and a fine.
There was also ‘freedom’, which was again the exclusive discretion of the president to appoint every one of his cronies, their spouse, offspring and their grandmothers to the high posts of diplomatic service, government institutions and co operations. Several dozens of political appointees in the diplomatic missions were recalled since the new president was elected.
Also, in a matter intimate to Mr. Weerawansa, several hundred of diplomatic passports issued to the coterie of the ex-president, including Mr. Weerawansa’s better-half are now being reviewed.
Of course, Mr. Weerawansa should feel aggrieved. The deprival of the diplomatic passport should have greatly eroded the ‘freedom’ of Sashi Weerawansa to go on sightseeing in Los Angeles.
"Freedom was slavery during the Rajapaksa regime. Rajapaksa and his henchmen created a public narrative that made the hapless public feel that their utter subjugation and helplessness before the state was freedom. "
His sense of victimhood is understandable, so is his desire to bring back Mahinda Rajapaksa to power, so that Weerawansa can win back lost ‘freedoms,’ among others his wife’s diplomatic passport.
Also in the past, Parliament was also ‘freed’ from engaging in laborious legislative making since much of that has been dictated by the President. Parliament was relegated to a rubber stamp of the president. It was freedom of irrelevance.
Judiciary was also relieved from its duty and the president and his henchmen took decisions on behalf of the judges, who, then, dutifully read out those rulings in the court room.
Freedom was slavery during the Rajapaksa regime. Rajapaksa and his henchmen created a public narrative that made the hapless public feel that their utter subjugation and helplessness before the State was freedom. Those like Wimal Weerawansa perpetuated that sinister lie until it went bust. Ignorance was strength (apologies to Orwell) of the Rajapaksa regime.
Now, Weerawansa wants public to rally behind Mahinda Rajapaksa so that he and the other cronies of the ex-president would get back on the gravy train and of course, his wife gets her diplomatic passport back.
This man is a modern day Goebbels. But, it takes at least a moderately informed society to unmask a charlatan. Hopefully, Sri Lanka would soon do that.
Follow Ranga Jayasuriya @RangaJayasuriya on Twitter