Catch of the Week January 25th – Freedom of Speech Beyond Death

To good not to post in its entirety.

Catch of the Week January 25th – Freedom of Speech Beyond Death: ”

This Sunday Im not going to post any links. Instead, Im going to republish a whole article, an article I think everyone should read.

Its written by Lasantha Wicremantunge, an editor of The Sunday Leader in Sri Lanka and was published three days after his murder. He expected to have been killed by then. This editorial is a very good reminder for us all why we have to defend our freedom of speech and should speak out our mind, whether we might face hostility or not.

And Then They Came For Me

No other profession calls on its
practitioners to lay down their lives for
their art save the armed forces and, in Sri
Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past
few years, the independent media have
increasingly come under attack. Electronic
and print-media institutions have been
burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless
journalists have been harassed, threatened
and killed. It has been my honour to belong
to all those categories and now especially
the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a
good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The
Sunday Leaders 15th year. Many things have
changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and
it does not need me to tell you that the
greater part of that change has been for the
worse. We find ourselves in the midst of a
civil war ruthlessly prosecuted by
protagonists whose bloodlust knows no
bounds. Terror, whether perpetrated by
terrorists or the state, has become the
order of the day. Indeed, murder has become
the primary tool whereby the state seeks to
control the organs of liberty. Today it is
the journalists, tomorrow it will be the
judges. For neither group have the risks
ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that.
After all, I too am a husband, and the
father of three wonderful children. I too
have responsibilities and obligations that
transcend my profession, be it the law or
journalism. Is it worth the risk? Many
people tell me it is not. Friends tell me to
revert to the bar, and goodness knows it
offers a better and safer livelihood.
Others, including political leaders on both
sides, have at various times sought to
induce me to take to politics, going so far
as to offer me ministries of my choice.
Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists
face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe
passage and the right of residence in their
countries. Whatever else I may have been
stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice.

But there is a calling that is yet above
high office, fame, lucre and security. It is
the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial
newspaper because we say it like we see it:
whether it be a spade, a thief or a
murderer, we call it by that name. We do not
hide behind euphemism. The investigative
articles we print are supported by
documentary evidence thanks to the
public-spiritedness of citizens who at great
risk to themselves pass on this material to
us. We have exposed scandal after scandal,
and never once in these 15 years has anyone
proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted

The free media serve as a mirror in which
the public can see itself sans mascara and
styling gel. From us you learn the state of
your nation, and especially its management
by the people you elected to give your
children a better future. Sometimes the
image you see in that mirror is not a
pleasant one. But while you may grumble in
the privacy of your armchair, the
journalists who hold the mirror up to you do
so publicly and at great risk to themselves.
That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not
hide the fact that we have ours. Our
commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a
transparent, secular, liberal democracy.
Think about those words, for they each has
profound meaning. Transparent because
government must be openly accountable to the
people and never abuse their trust. Secular
because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural
society such as ours, secularism offers the
only common ground by which we might all be
united. Liberal because we recognise that
all human beings are created different, and
we need to accept others for what they are
and not what we would like them to be. And
democratic… well, if you need me to
explain why that is important, youd best
stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by
unquestioningly articulating the majority
view. Lets face it, that is the way to sell
newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion
pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we
often voice ideas that many people find
distasteful. For example,  we have
consistently espoused the view that while
separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it
is more important to address the root causes
of terrorism, and urged government to view
Sri Lankas ethnic strife in the context of
history and not through the telescope of
terrorism. We have also agitated against
state terrorism in the so-called war against
terror, and made no secret of our horror
that Sri Lanka is the only country in the
world routinely to bomb its own citizens.
For these views we have been labelled
traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear
that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader
has a political agenda: it does not. If we
appear more critical of the government than
of the opposition it is only because we
believe that – pray excuse cricketing argot
– there is no point in bowling to the
fielding side. Remember that for the few
years of our existence in which the UNP was
in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn
in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption
wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady
stream of embarrassing expos???s we published
may well have served to precipitate the
downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be
interpreted to mean that we support the
Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless
and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have
infested the planet. There is no gainsaying
that it must be eradicated. But to do so by
violating the rights of Tamil citizens,
bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is
not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese,
whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma
is forever called into question by this
savagery, much of which is unknown to the
public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the
countrys north and east will require the
Tamil people of those regions to live
eternally as second-class citizens, deprived
of all self respect. Do not imagine that you
can placate them by showering ‘development’
and ‘reconstruction’ on them in the post-war
era. The wounds of war will scar them
forever, and you will also have an even more
bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with.
A problem amenable to a political solution
will thus become a festering wound that will
yield strife for all eternity. If I seem
angry and frustrated, it is only because
most of my countrymen – and all of the
government – cannot see this writing so
plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions
brutally assaulted, while on another my
house was sprayed with machine-gun fire.
Despite the governments sanctimonious
assurances, there was never a serious police
inquiry into the perpetrators of these
attacks, and the attackers were never
apprehended. In all these cases, I have
reason to believe the attacks were inspired
by the government. When finally I am killed,
it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most
of the public, Mahinda and I have been
friends for more than a quarter century.
Indeed, I suspect that I am one of the few
people remaining who routinely addresses him
by his first name and uses the familiar
Sinhala address oya when talking to him.
Although I do not attend the meetings he
periodically holds for newspaper editors,
hardly a month passes when we do not meet,
privately or with a few close friends
present, late at night at Presidents House.
There we swap yarns, discuss politics and
joke about the good old days. A few remarks
to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to
the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005,
nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than
in this column. Indeed, we broke with a
decade of tradition by referring to you
throughout by your first name. So well known
were your commitments to human rights and
liberal values that we ushered you in like a
breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of
folly, you got yourself involved in the
Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a
lot of soul-searching that we broke the
story, at the same time urging you to return
the money. By the time you did so several
weeks later, a great blow had been struck to
your reputation. It is one you are still
trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not
greedy for the presidency. You did not have
to hanker after it: it fell into your lap.
You have told me that your sons are your
greatest joy, and that you love spending
time with them, leaving your brothers to
operate the machinery of state. Now, it is
clear to all who will see that that
machinery has operated so well that my sons
and daughter do not themselves have a

In the wake of my death I know you will make
all the usual sanctimonious noises and call
upon the police to hold a swift and thorough
inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have
ordered in the past, nothing will come of
this one, too. For truth be told, we both
know who will be behind my death, but dare
not call his name. Not just my life, but
yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our
country in your younger days, in just three
years you have reduced it to rubble. In the
name of patriotism you have trampled on
human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption
and squandered public money like no other
President before you. Indeed, your conduct
has been like a small child suddenly let
loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps
inapt because no child could have caused so
much blood to be spilled on this land as you
have, or trampled on the rights of its
citizens as you do. Although you are now so
drunk with power that you cannot see it, you
will come to regret your sons having so rich
an inheritance of blood. It can only bring
tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear
conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I
wish, when your time finally comes, you
could do the same. I wish.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of
knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no
man. And I have not travelled this journey
alone. Fellow journalists in other branches
of the media walked with me: most of them
are now dead, imprisoned without trial or
exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the
shadow of death that your Presidency has
cast on the freedoms for which you once
fought so hard. You will never be allowed to
forget that my death took place under your
watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I
also know that you will have no choice but
to protect my killers: you will see to it
that the guilty one is never convicted. You
have no choice. I feel sorry for you, and
Shiranthi will have a long time to spend on
her knees when next she goes for Confession
for it is not just her owns sins which she
must confess, but those of her extended
family that keeps you in office.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader,
what can I say but Thank You for supporting
our mission. We have espoused unpopular
causes, stood up for those too feeble to
stand up for themselves, locked horns with
the high and mighty so swollen with power
that they have forgotten their roots,
exposed corruption and the waste of your
hard-earned tax rupees, and made sure that
whatever the propaganda of the day, you were
allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I
– and my family – have now paid the price
that I have long known I will one day have
to pay. I am – and have always been – ready
for that. I have done nothing to prevent
this outcome: no security, no precautions. I
want my murderer to know that I am not a
coward like he is, hiding behind human
shields while condemning thousands of
innocents to death. What am I among so many?
It has long been written that my life would
be taken, and by whom. All that remains to
be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue
fighting the good fight, too, is written.
For I did not fight this fight alone. Many
more of us have to be – and will be – killed
before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my
assassination will be seen not as a defeat
of freedom but an inspiration for those who
survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I
hope that it will help galvanise forces that
will usher in a new era of human liberty in
our beloved motherland. I also hope it will
open the eyes of your President to the fact
that however many are slaughtered in the
name of patriotism, the human spirit will
endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses
combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks
and tell me it is a matter of time before I
am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is
inevitable. But if we do not speak out now,
there will be no one left to speak for those
who cannot, whether they be ethnic
minorities, the disadvantaged or the
persecuted. An example that has inspired me
throughout my career in journalism has been
that of the German theologian, Martin
Niem??ller. In his youth he was an
anti-Semite and an admirer of  Hitler. As
Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw
Nazism for what it was: it was not just the
Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just
about anyone with an alternate point of
view. Niem??ller spoke out, and for his
trouble was incarcerated in the
Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps
from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed.
While incarcerated, Niem??ller wrote a poem
that, from the first time I read it in my
teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind:

First they came for the Jews

            and I did not speak out because
I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists

            and I did not speak out because
I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists

            and I did not speak out because
I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me

            and there was no one left to
speak out for me.

If you remember nothing else, remember this:
The Leader is there for you, be you
Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste,
homosexual, dissident or disabled. Its staff
will fight on, unbowed and unafraid, with
the courage to which you have become
accustomed. Do not take that commitment for
granted.  Let there be no doubt that
whatever sacrifices we journalists make,
they are not made for our own glory or
enrichment: they are made for you. Whether
you deserve their sacrifice is another
matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

Please share this article with as many as you can. The original source is here: Lasantha Wicremantunges last editorial.


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