News headlines spotlight : the need to catch real killers | Sunday Observer

News headlines spotlight : the need to catch real killers

President Maithripala Sirisena’s assurance to the armed forces members that he would not allow any of them to be prosecuted for alleged human rights violations during the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) will totally eliminate any apprehensions, if there were any, in the minds of the people who risked their lives for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Motherland.

After making this statement on Wednesday (March 29) at the Defence Services School in Kurunegala, the President clarified that however, he was unable to protect those who are found guilty of acts that are not connected to the national security and those who are guilty of killing media persons or sportsmen.

The media, both national and international, focused on the latter part of the statement on those who are under investigation for the alleged killings and abductions and who would not be protected by the government.

File picture of a soldier feeding a civilian during the final stages of the war.

Although the President refrained from naming any person or incident, one of the dailies highlighted this as front page lead with the headline, ‘President vows not to protect killers of Lasantha, Ekneligoda, Thajudeen and others’. The story added that, ‘while the President did not refer to specific cases, the context of his remarks was clear’.

A foreign journalist, who also gave the same interpretation, added that the place where the President chose to make his statement, Kurunegala, is also significant.

While one lead said, ‘I am unable to protect those found guilty of killing media persons or sportsmen; Maithripala Sirisena’, another headline stated, ‘Sirisena drops a bombshell in Kurunegala’. Only one local newspaper kept it simple by reporting that, “President assures war heroes will not face prosecution”.

The media went on to recall that several military intelligence personnel have been arrested for involvement in a spate of attacks against journalists, including, Lasantha Wickremetunge, Prageeth Ekneligoda, Keith Noyahr, and Upali Tennakoon.

Several naval officers are under arrest on charges of abducting university students for ransom, who later disappeared.

The foreign media too gave their own interpretations. The Hindu thought the President making this pronouncement in former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s constituency, Kurunegala, was significant.

In a thinly-veiled reference to Sri Lanka’s former first family, allegedly linked to the murder of a journalist and a rugby star, President Maithripala Sirisena said, he would not protect “those who are guilty of killing media persons or sportsmen”, India’s premier daily added.

The popular Asian beam of Al Jazeera said, ‘President authorizes prosecution of security officers involved in an alleged death squad carrying out civilian killings.’ It added that the President’s latest remarks will likely be seen by senior police investigators as a green light to arrest several prominent establishment figures over the 2009 assassination of respected newspaper editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge.

His killing heightened global condemnation of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, which had already been accused of abuses against journalists, activists, and the Tamil minority population.

Police have already arrested six military intelligence officers in connection with a 2008 attack on another editor, and accuse the same death squad of killing Wickrematunge in January 2009.

Different websites too have given their versions. ‘Sri Lanka President signals green light for VVIP arrests’ one headline screamed. It is obvious,that the President wanted to give an assurance to the countrymen that his government would protect war heroes from judicial sentences of any kind in relation to their prosecution of the war against LTTE terrorists, include collateral damage, which encompasses unintended deaths or injuries or even damage or destruction to private property, caused, due to bona fide acts of commission and omission, by members of the security forces, police, civil defence force and others. At the same time, he made it clear that the government would not try to protect those who are charged with other crimes committed in the name of war.

They may include rape, murder, torture, robbery and other forms of crime executed by members of the security forces, police, civil defence force and others, including politicians and officials.

President Sirisena, as well as, Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe took the position that war crimes investigations will be carried out by local courts with perhaps foreigners only being permitted to be present as observers, thereby reinforcing the status that Sri Lanka’s judicial system is independent, despite being battered and tarnished in the recent past.

There is a significance that he has chosen Kurunegala to make this statement. Kurunegala is not only the district that provided the highest number of soldiers to the country, but also the district which former President Mahinda Rajapaksa chose as a safe district for his reentry to Parliament in the August 2015 General Elections.

The signal given by President Sirisena last week in Kurunegala is loud and clear.

His government not only not permit foreign jurists to sit in judgement in an alleged war crimes tribunal, but also will not allow the war heroes to be prosecuted.

Those, who will be prosecuted are only those who committed crimes in the name of war to fulfil their own vested agendas, and they too will be prosecuted in local courts.

Whether President Sirisena’s forthright statement has any bearings on the symbolic sword (Kastane) gifted to him by the Russian iron man, Vladimir Putin during the former’s Moscow visit last month is for the political historians to conclude.