External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris has queried whether silencing a speaker in a country that enjoys the freedom of speech is acceptable? He made this query addressing the Media in London.
Speaking at a Media Briefing at the Sri Lanka High Commission, London, to explain current political developments in Sri Lanka, and the situation arising from the prevention of President Rajapaksa addressing the Oxford Union, Prof. Peiris said that two statements by the Oxford Union showed an immense degree of pressure and threats being brought on the Union for the purpose. He said this went against the core values of Oxford, which believed in the freedom of speech, the articulation of differing views, however disagreeable they may be, and the ability to counter in words the views of another, state one’s own position and challenge the views of a speaker.
If one were to sum up this spirit of the Oxford Union it was best done by the words of Voltaire that “I disagree with every word you say, but shall defend unto death your right to say what you have to say…” Two statements by the Oxford Union, its public statement on why it had to withdraw the invitation to President to address the Union, and a personal letter to President Rajapaksa from the President of the Union showed the nature of the danger the Union and the community in Oxford was faced with in this situation He recalled how on the last occasion when President Rajapaksa addressed the Union two years ago, there had been a very lively exchange of views between the President and the members of the Union. In inviting President Rajapaksa again, the Union was ready to once again learn from him, his views on the future of the country.
Regretting the inability to proceed with the arrangement, due to the threat posed by those opposed to this, the President of the Union had said he was sure President Rajapaksa would have shared a fascinating insight into the political climate in Sri Lanka and its international neighbours. The Minister noted that in delivering his speech as planned today, President Rajapaksa would have had the opportunity to defend his vision.