by Harim Peiris
Last week Sri Lanka commemorated her 63rd anniversary of freedom from colonial rule and Sri Lankans rightly celebrated the achievement of our political independence and democratic rights as a free and sovereign nation. That freedom and sovereignty has not been without challenge, the most serious of which was the three decades long challenge by the LTTE. However, the two JVP armed insurrections and the attempted military coup in the nineteen sixties must also rank as undemocratic measures that sought to take away our post colonial freedom.
The defining characteristic of a free society is that political power is exercised with consent, challenged and changed in a democratic manner, free of violence. That political dissent is permitted. The use of violence, orchestrated or otherwise, in the political processes and society, seriously erodes, undermines and weakens our democratic rights and freedoms.
Attack on e-Lanka News and the UNP Procession
Even as the nation celebrated her independence anniversary, there were two serious attacks on opposition voices in the body politic, one on a web news station named Lanka-e-News, a not very prominent but nonetheless active news web site and the other on a peaceful procession by the main opposition United National Party in the heart of Colombo.
(i) Attack on Lanka-e-News
The attack on the Lanka-e-news occurred in the same manner as such attacks have occurred on the Sirasa TV news station and assassinated former Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga among other assaults on media in Sri Lanka. They occurred in the city. Lanka-e-News editor Prageeth Ekneliyagoda, mysteriously went missing over an year ago, indicating that Lanka-e-news must indeed be having some enemies, who being unable to shut down the web site through the disappearance of its editor, had followed it up with the arson attack. These attacks occurred in the South, where democratic space is assumed and one had hoped was guaranteed. Our nearly half million men under arms having so convincingly won in the North are seemingly helpless to protect freedoms in the South.
(ii) Attack on the UNP
The attack on the UNP procession was similar. The police were generally more unwilling than unable to do their duty and provide protection to the “alternative government” which is what a parliamentary opposition is in a free society, exercising its democratic human rights in peacefully protesting and demonstrating their opposition to the incarceration of the joint opposition presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka.One does not require to be a political supporter of the UNP or an avid reader of the Lanka e news to be outraged at the assault on the right of peaceful assembly or the right of free speech. An attack on the rights of one person becomes an assault on society and on our collective rights. It is the duty of the State to ensure those rights.
Human Rights and Patriotism – An alternative view
A rather disturbing trend of more recent times has been the tendency to categorize every censure of human and democratic rights violations as unpatriotic. But this proposition while perhaps acceptable and even popular political rhetoric and it must be popular otherwise it won’t be repeated so ad nauseam, does not really hold water either intellectually or morally. Surely the unpatriotic action, is that which violates our rights and denies our freedom. “Unpatriotism is not decrying the assaults on our liberty, the assault on our liberty is unpatriotic”.
It is unpatriotic that opposition MP’s are assaulted and their vehicles damaged, it is unpatriotic that freedom of speech and assembly is violated and it is unpatriotic that the freedom of the media, electronic (Sirasa), print (Lasantha) and web (e-Lanka) are violated.
Those are the real unpatriotic acts and those that really love their country and her people, which is what patriotism is all about, will cherish the freedoms and liberties we achieved over sixty years ago after many centuries of foreign colonial domination. We should not allow our cherished freedoms and rights (human and democratic) to be weakened, eroded and stripped away. Protecting our rights and freedoms is the sacred, patriotic duty of every Sri Lankan and speaking up when such rights are under assault is a moral responsibility.~ courtesy: Daily Mirror ~