For our pilot episode, we spoke to a diaspora journalist on the recent developments in Sri Lanka. Recently, Sri Lanka had been voted by Lonely Planet as the no.1 holiday destination. With the second highest number of abductions, who wouldn’t want to visit this exotic nation?
To provide some context, Sri Lanka has been wrought with decades of tension and conflict between the two major ethnicities: the Sinhalese and the Tamils. The 25-year civil war has seen the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamils, especially in the last couple weeks of the war. The transitional government was set in place to implement policies for reconciliation, but now things have taken a huge U-turn.
It has been just over a week since President Sirisena appointed former president and alleged war criminal, Mahinda Rajapaksa as Prime Minister in place of Ranil Wickremesinghe. Sri Lanka’s coup, which many claim is constitutional, fails to abide by the 19th Amendment that denies the President of the power to remove the PM at his discretion. Security concerns have peaked across the nation, particularly for minorities, activists and journalists who fear refreshed repression and retribution for speaking out over the past few years.
Rajapaksa’s reign was marked by the genocide of Tamils, he orchestrated the murder of tens of thousands of Tamils and now holds power over them once again. Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a man who tried to justify the bombings of schools and hospitals, is reportedly looking at returning to Defence Secretary posting. If this goes ahead, both would be in occupation of the highest offices in Sri Lanka’s government.
Already significant changes in attitude among security forces have been observable in the NE. Tamils have faced increased intimidation and the situation is expected to worsen if Rajapaksa does legitimately take office. Those responsible for the racist violence against Muslims in Kandy earlier this year, were released from jail onto streets following Rajapaksa’s appointment. Is this an example of one of the many powers Rajapaksa will have as PM?
Two TV stations, ITN and Rupavahini, have been threatened by Rajapaksa loyalists and taken off air. Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) and Tamil Television Network (TTN) have been threatened not to publish anything further. European Union urges Sri Lanka “to refrain from violence, to respect freedom of media”. But the attacks on journalists does not stop here. Tamil Guardian’s very own journalist, Uthayarasa Shalin, had been interrogated by Sri Lankan authorities. His interrogators said, “If this had happened two years ago, we wouldn’t have questioned you like this, we would have hung you upside down and then made you disappear.”
30th October saw the protest of tens of thousands of people in Colombo. Although Wickremesinghe and the UNP-supporters took centre stage, the protest was attended by many calling to reconvene Parliament and to restore democracy. Many are claiming they asked for Mandela but got Mugabe.
As the deadline for Rajapaksa to prove his claim to the office of PM nears, we’re seeing a majority of 118 MPs signing a resolution refuting Sirisena’s actions and calling on Parliament to be immediately reconvened. However, given Sri Lanka’s long tradition of fluid party allegiances, who’s to say what might happen.