Former Army Chief and unsuccessful presidential candidate Gen. Sarath Fonseka has complained of a government move to frame him over the assassination of The Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge. In what could be described as some strange quirk, he has told the newspaper Lasantha edited that an attempt is being made to forcibly obtain a confession from a brigadier in custody, who was close to him while he was the army chief.
The government`s high octane performance as regards Lasantha`s killing, having let the grass grow under its feet for over one year, may have intrigued the discerning public. The on-going investigation would have been more credible if the brigadier concerned had been arrested, while Gen. Fonseka was still the army commander and in the good books of the government.
The UNP on July 08, 2008, told Parliament that attacks on journalists were being carried out by the army. According to BBC, former Speaker and present Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera informed the House that `a special team controlled by [the then] Lt. Gen. Sarath Fonseka` was responsible for violent attacks on journalists. `We are told by those in the army itself that journalists are abducted and subjected to grievous injury by none other than a special unit under the army commander,` MP Perera told the House. The army denied the allegation.
That was the time when the government should have swung into action. However, that the government did not have Lasantha`s assassination and other attacks on journalists probed promptly does not mean that they must not be investigated at all. Better late than never!
If the belated probe into crimes against journalists is a witch hunt as Gen. Fonseka claims, let it be challenged legally either at this stage or later in courts. His democratic right to voice protest through the media cannot be questioned but such action does not serve his purpose. If he really has nothing to hide, he ought to challenge the government to expedite the probe and punish the culprits.
As for witch hunts, Gen. Fonseka would have acted in a far worse manner, if he had won the recent presidential election. He, it may be recalled, threatened to throw his opponents behind bars first thing after victory. The government top guns and their propaganda loose cannon, he warned, should have peduru (mats) ready for their stay at Welikada, Bogambara etc. He also brought the army and the government into disrepute by making a war crime charge against Maj. Gen. Shavendra Silva and Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Given his track record and vindictive disposition, there is no reason to doubt that he would have carried out those threats, if he had won.
Gen. Fonseka may be right in claiming that the probe he is protesting against is politically motivated. Nothing in this country is devoid of power politics. But the question is why it is only the army under his command that has come under heavy criticism for attacks on the media since the resumption of war in 2006. The Navy, the Air Force, the STF/Police and the Civil Defence Force were also involved in the war. However, none of their chiefs has been blamed for abducting journalists. Why?
This country finds itself in a peculiar position. Ruling party politicians and their henchmen are manifestly above the law by virtue of wielding State power. How the police acted when Minister Mervyn Silva made an abortive foray into the Rupavahini Corporation a few years ago and landed himself in the soup is a case in point. No legal action was taken against him. When questioned by a group of editors why the police had steered clear of Minister Silva in spite of damning evidence against him, President Mahinda Rajapaksa had the chutzpah to claim that there was no need to do so as Silva had already been `punished` by Rupavahini workers! Likewise, the errant Opposition politicians and their stooges cannot be dealt with appropriately as they launch protests by claiming witch hunts against them. The wealthy with the right political connections, too, have risen above the law.
So, in this democratic socialist republic, only the ordinary people without the means of perverting the course of justice are equal before the law.
The government is duty bound to investigate all cases of extra judicial killings and other forms of human rights violations and bring perpetrators to justice without further delay. The on-going probe into brutal attacks on journalists including Lasantha`s assassination must be expedited and suspects prosecuted urgently.
The government must also ensure that the ass of law in captivity will cease to be selective in kicking the law must equally apply to the ruling party undesirables as well.