|Incorrect Criticism, Damaging and an Obstacle to Progress: Peace Chief to Sunday Leader|
|Monday, 25 August 2008|
Given below is the text of a letter sent to the Sunday Leader by Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary-General, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, in response to an article that appeared on August 17th. Sections of the letter were reproduced in another article in the Sunday Leader on August 24th, but the full letter makes clear a point the article avoids, namely the commitment of the police and the Sri Lankan state to affirm the rule of law and deal firmly with breaches of the peace arising from religious prejudice.
It was in particular unfortunate that the Sunday Leader did not publish the sections of the letter which made clear the selective way in which the original article had dealt with evidence. The new article suggested that we were merely responding to complaints from others, but this is also misleading. The questions had already been gone into at the time the American ambassador raised them, in his usual positive spirit, which is why we could respond to him so promptly.
Conversely, since the British High Commission had raised similar questions some months back, we have kept the High Commissioner informed of the situation, but have had no response to a couple of letters. This, we hope, indicates that he is aware that the police are taking prompt action, and therefore he does not need to draw attention to any particular incident. Needless to say, it is important that any breach of the peace is brought to government attention, and failure to act should also be highlighted. But it would be more useful if this were done objectively, and to convey information, as the envoys have done, rather than in a spirit of fault finding that does not always adhere to fact.
I write with reference to the article by Sonali Samarasinghe entitled ‘And then they came for me’ in your edition of Sunday August 17th. The issues she raises are important, and she is right to claim that what seems increasing frequency requires concerted government action, to ensure the rule of law. Unfortunately, she seems not to be aware that such action has been taken.
With regard to the incident at Kalutara for instance, which was the basis of the article, the police had acted promptly to prevent a breach of the peace. At the last of the meetings held last week, it was agreed that no more protests would be held until a meeting scheduled for Monday August 18th at which senior police officials and Secretaries to two Ministries, as well as local officials including the Disaster Management Coordinator, met the concerned parties. Unfortunately, this agreement was breached, but the police presented a comprehensive report as to what had occurred on Sunday August 17th, which indicated that judicial action would be appropriate. The matter has now been placed before the courts, which have ordered the production before them of those alleged responsible.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
The same has occurred with regard to the incident at Malabe described in a previous article by your correspondent. Contrary to your correspondent’s continuing suggestions that the authorities are biased against minorities, in neither case have the police recorded or produced evidence against the Christians involved, and it is those who are by all accounts responsible for a breach of the peace who are before the courts.
As you are aware, the right of peaceful protest, without any breach of the peace or of the law, is one of the most cherished in this country. Government cannot and will not limit this right without sufficient evidence of mischief being planned. There may be worries about the motivation behind continuing protests in particular sectors, for instance with regard to universities as well as religions, that have proliferated recently, turning to violence that seems designed to embarrass a government that is dealing so successfully with terrorism. But to stop protests before they become violent would also prompt adverse comments from doughty defenders of freedom such as the press claims to be.
The police therefore have a difficult task to perform, but I can assure you that, with regard to all problems regarding religious freedom that have arisen recently, they have acted with thorough professional commitment. It is sad therefore to see regular criticism from the same sources, which pay no attention to facts, in what seems a deliberate attempt to denigrate the government without providing support to those agencies of government acting swiftly to defuse tensions and deal through the rule of law with possible culprits.
In this context, I would draw your attention to correspondence I have been conducting with an organization called Christian Solidarity Worldwide, which had claimed as to an attack on a pastor in Amparai that it was ‘reportedly carried out by members of a government sponsored security force’, and suggested that the police were inactive. In fact, it transpired that the police had acted promptly and put the suspects in court, and that only one of four happened to be a home guard. Sadly, CSW has not issued a statement to correct the misleading impression of their earlier statement.
CSW at least has been willing to engage and discuss issues. The Sri Lankan organization that had provided them with information, the National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, has not responded at all to our correspondence. This is unfortunate, because it contributes to the feeling that they are concerned not with the issues, which we should all endeavour to resolve through legal means, but with the publicity they can derive from any problems.
We will however continue to write to them, to request them to deal formally with the government, as the church in Kalutara has done. Since the Evangelical Alliance has now prefixed the term National to its title, in emulation of the National Christian Council, they will perhaps at last, given the worries your columnist outlines, act with responsibility as the latter endeavours to do so as to resolve any problems.
Finally, while I am sure the individuals your correspondent mentions in her article can defend themselves if they think it necessary, it is unfortunate that gratuitous references to just a few political parties and public figures suggest a determination to denigrate political opponents instead of confining the article to the vital issues it raises. ‘The myopic self serving policies of successive Bandaranaikes succeeded in chasing away the Burghers’ may sound rich, but it ignores the fact that the exodus of the Burghers began at the time of independence, with Australia throwing open its doors to those who could prove themselves white enough; this naming and shaming is in marked contrast to ‘the massive brain drain of Tamil professionals in 1983, the fleeing of several academics and worthy citizens after the dark days of the late ‘80s’ where guilt is not attributed to anyone in particular.
Finally, whilst readers may find the arrangement of the page confusing, with allegations noted in one area being refuted in another, I believe careful reading will make clear the consistent approach of the relevant government ministries and departments. To cite just one example, the final item in the article claims that the Department of Christian Religious Affairs has declared that ‘Churches need prior registration’. However the report indicates that the Director has said simply that churches, like all others else, need approval ‘before building’, a fact that I should have thought all your readers living within city limits and subject to UDA and other regulations know well enough.
Precision as to what exactly was asked and what was answered would help to avoid misunderstandings, in this as in many other cases. But such precision is often lacking, and not only in newspapers, which is why so much time is expended in repairing damage rather than moving forward constructively.
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process
|Last Updated ( Monday, 09 March 2009 )|
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