Sunday, August 15, 2010

Emergency without reason accepted by society too

By Kusal Perera | The Sunday Leader

It’s the ‘Miracle in Asia’, as the Rajapaksa regime wishes to brand Sri Lanka under its rule. It’s no miracle though, to be wholly contradictory and to be far from the ‘truth’ here in Sri Lanka, also under the Rajapaksa rule.

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris declared at a media briefing on May 3, the World Press Freedom Day, that the President had decided to pardon journalist J.S. Tissainayagam. JST was arrested under Emergency Regulations and sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

One week after Prof Peiris’s revelation on Tissainayagam, another Peiris, Attorney General Mohan Pieris, said Tissainayagam (to be pardoned) should withdraw his appeal to courts that challenges his sentence. So it was in fact, one Peiris against the other, while Tissainayagam waited for the actual interpretation of this much applauded pardon.

Two days after Tissainayagam’s unresolved pardon issue hit headlines, Emergency Regulations were partly relaxed by parliament on May 5 and Minister, G.L. Peiris promised that Emergency laws will be completely removed, in stages, without compromising national security. He was quoted in the official government news portal as saying that the government has relaxed regulations that “put imperative obligations on house owners to provide information about their inmates”. The Minister also said, “the provision that gave security forces to enter into private properties, used in connection with offences, too had been done away with.”

What Minister Peiris, in fact, meant was that there will be no necessity for registering households and their visitors at police stations and the security forces will not have powers to enter premises, without a ‘search warrant’, as during the war.

In less than two months after Prof Peiris’s explanation on relaxing Emergency laws, Democratic People’s Front (DPF) Leader Mano Ganesan wrote to President Rajapaksa, totally contradicting Minister Peiris and accusing that the law is being flouted, racially. Ganesan wrote an urgent letter on July 9, to President Rajapaksa that said, “Recommencement of the police registration for the Tamils in the city of Colombo is purely discriminatory. We are certain that it is only the Tamils who are instructed to register…”

The “imperative obligations on house owners to provide information about their inmates” that Prof. Peiris said was no more, did not apply to Tamil people, resident in the city of Colombo. Ganesan requested the President to “intervene to stop this discriminatory act which is flatly against the spirit of reconciliation.” Did the President contradict Prof. Peiris and his explanations on relaxing emergency regulations in his response to Ganesan? That, Ganesan is yet to tell.

The Media Spokesman for the Police Department, SP Jayakody nevertheless gave a contradictory explanation to The Sunday Leader of July 25, justifying the ‘recommencement’ of registration of Tamil people, without saying it was only for Tamil people. According to SP Jayakody, this was not carried out under Section 23 of Emergency Regulations as before. It was enforced under the Police Ordinance and was no flouting of the law. Prof. Peiris was perhaps ignorant of the Police Ordinance that makes house owners obligatory to provide information on inmates, even without emergency.

Emergency laws have been used in most unwanted instances under this regime in contradiction of what is said or promised by the regime. Sarah Malanie Perera, a convert to Islam and now resident in Bahrain, was detained and hauled into court under emergency laws, for “insulting Buddhism” through her two books that try to explain why she chose Islam as her faith. Discussing religion, if interpreted as against Buddhism, can be taken under emergency laws. But not the other way round, when Buddhists accuse other religions.

What is this all about, in this the ‘Asian miracle’? It’s about Sinhala Buddhist hegemony. All through the escalated war that was waged with much hype against ‘Tamil’ terrorism and ‘Tamil’ separatism, emergency regulations were basically used against the Tamil people living outside the conflict areas. Within the war zones, there was no necessity for law. Such was not made possible on the strength of the law alone, but on the strength of Sinhala politics. It was the Sinhala psyche which justified the use of law so blatantly as to raid Tamil businesses, Tamil residencies and also abduct Tamil youth and Tamil businessmen by the hundreds, according to Ganesan’s Civil Monitoring Commission (CMC), that was tracking such violations.

It was that Sinhala psyche in enforcing emergency law that made authorities load buses with 376 Tamil people who had come to Colombo and transport them by force to Vavuniya in June 2007, an act that was challenged in the Supreme Court during former Chief Justice Silva’s tenure, by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA).

This regime has to keep that iron fist clenched and needs to continue with that Sinhala image. It is for that reason the LTTE is still kept live and haunting the Southern Sinhala psyche. It is also because this regime wants power accrued within the family and away from constitutional provisions that the LTTE is often projected as a possible threat. It is on that the Defence Ministry gets a massive allocation of funds, far greater than when the war was fought, over an year ago. The Coast Conversation Department (CCD), the Urban Development Authority (UDA) and the Registration of Persons Department (RPD) have all been moved under the Defence Ministry for accrued power. Added to that, the Attorney General’s Department is now under the President.

This is a fierce erosion of democratic life, to live with. What has been retained as emergency rule is used with the same Sinhala rhetoric to have the regime in control. There is still provision to detain any person for three months at a stretch. Who says that cannot be extended? The security forces will continue with police powers. The reason given is that they need such powers to facilitate ongoing investigations into terrorist activities. For such investigations, what if they continue to search houses?

The government has done away with the cluster of emergency regulations that restricts processions and meetings that were considered detrimental to national security. Yet protests and processions are attacked and tear gas fired with leaders arrested and detained. Opposition MPs Vijitha Herath and Ajith Kumara, along with 12 others were arrested in Galle on August 12. It was not emergency laws this time. The police were assaulted, the magistrate was told.

Relaxing emergency laws is not exactly the issue in Sri Lanka. There are other laws that could be interpreted and used to keep the clenched fist clenched. The AG is there under the President to interpret the law, if need arises. Moved from the private bar to assume the top legal post over the next person in waiting for succession and the AG’s Department brought under the President, Pieris would have to deliver what is asked for.

The advantage this Rajapaksa regime has with them is the Police Department that has no sense of working under normal law of the land. Worst is, it is heavily politicised from electoral level to the very top. This society has been under emergency regulations from April 1971, except during that very brief period from 1978 to 1983 July. There too, emergency law was in effect at different times. We thus have 40 years under emergency rule and a politicised Police Department with almost every single person recruited, trained and left on duty to handle emergency regulations. Over the past few decades, they were deployed as an auxiliary force in security work too.

This is therefore a regime that wants power without compromise and one that could use a Police Department that had no opportunity for normal civil duties outside emergency laws.

For a regime that has kept space for militarising of the society, even on dengue mosquitoes, emergency regulations would mean very little. Society accepts any violation of the law as necessary, as long as that is justified on national security. It is still the Sinhala psyche that works for this Rajapaksa regime. A Sinhala ideology that makes this society forego its own rights with a ‘hurrah’ for daily existence. A society that does not know how intellectually poor it is. A miracle no doubt that we still exist this way.

© The Sunday Leader

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