Irrational blame game | Sunday Observer

Irrational blame game

President Maithripala Sirisena confided in his colleagues that he was pained by the unreasonable criticisms levelled against him not only by the unbridled social media, but also by a section of the main stream print and audio visual media. The media pundits have shown their prejudiced mindset by their foregone conclusion that President Sirisena knew about the Easter Sunday attacks and did not take steps to prevent it.

Addressing the heads of media at President’s House in Colombo, on April 26, five days after the Easter Sunday bomb explosions he set the record straight on the intelligence report sent by a neighbouring country. He acknowledged that there was a serious lapse on the part of the Defence Secretary and the Inspector General of Police (IGP), who failed to inform him about the intelligence agency letter received on April 4, warning about a possible attack.

“If I had known that, I would have cancelled all my engagements and taken steps to provide adequate security to churches and hotels.”

The intelligence letter warned of possible attacks on churches, places of public gatherings and VIPs. “The IGP has sent that letter to the staff of DIG, from table to table and finally to DIG Dissanayake of VIP Security, who, in turn, forwarded it to the officers in-charge of security of VIPs protection. I was not informed. Neither was my security head nor the Prime Minister’s security head. The Defence Secretary and the IGP came to wish me on New Year Day (April 14) but said nothing about the warning letter. It was a serious lapse on their part,” President Sirisena told newspaper editors and heads of audio visual media.

He said because of the serious lapse, he had asked the Defence Secretary and the IGP to resign, and added that an appropriate process would be implemented, reorganizing the security services including the State Intelligence Service and Intelligence Units of the Police and Tri-forces, to prevent the recurrence of such lapses.

President Sirisena gave time to the media personnel to question him, and answered them truthfully.

One would have expected the media to conduct their duties with responsibility after this clarification by the President. Although the media reported the President’s statement, they continued their tirade against him.

Most continued to blame the President in editorials and lead articles stating that he knew about the impending bomb explosions and failed to stop it.

In such circumstances in the past, former Presidents J R Jayewardene, Ranasinghe Premadasa, Chandrika Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa did not hesitate to impose censorship and appoint a Competent Authority to control the errant media. However, President Sirisena who does not favour such harsh measures but believes in democracy and fair play, makes repeated requests to the media to be ethical and perform their duties with responsibility.

While analyzing the undue criticism of the President by a section of the media, it is also necessary to highlight the constructive role played by a responsible media to defuse tension among the communities after the Easter Sunday terrorist attacks.

At the media briefing, President Sirisena, referring to the current operations, raids and arrests of suspects, praised the law enforcement and intelligence services for their efficiency and dedication in responding to this situation. “The Government has been able to crack down on many criminals, suspects and those responsible for the recent attacks and arrest many suspects. Therefore, I believe we can avoid a repetition of such gruesome acts of violence in the future,” he said.

Answering a question about the safety of schools and places of worship, the President said the Government will create a background where public servants, schoolchildren, entrepreneurs and the general public could act liberally in a free and peaceful environment.

“We had to declare an Emergency to suppress terrorism and ensure a peaceful environment. What have been enacted by gazette are clauses pertaining to suppressing terrorism only.

If not for these enactments the powers that prevailed would not be sufficient for the Police to take proactive measures and the Tr forces cannot participate actively in the operations,” he said.

The President said the Islamist extremist group carried out the attack at a least expected moment under the guidance, instructions, and leadership of a foreign terrorist organization to cause an appalling loss of human lives.

Our security services received reports about this terrorist movement since 2015, and they had been receiving training and guidance from foreign terrorist organizations. Our security services were monitoring them and investigating. However, they did not have enough evidence to start legal action or information to be produced in court, he said.

President Sirisena said he suspects that the terrorists, perhaps hastened the attack, because of the major campaign he launched against illicit drugs. “There is a nexus between international terrorism and international drug trade.

His Eminence Malcolm Cardinal Ranjith, was a staunch supporter of our anti-drugs campaign who joined us at Anti-Drug Walks. Perhaps the terrorists hastened the attacks on churches for these reasons.”

Asked about proscribing the Islamist militant groups responsible for the terror attacks, the President said it could be done under the emergency laws, but the ban would end when the emergency is lifted. Within days, a Gazette Notification was issued to proscribe the three Islamist terrorist outfits. As this is a new proclamation, it would not lapse after the emergency is lifted.

The President recalled that when the LTTE terrorism broke out in the early 80s, most of the Sinhalese and Muslims looked at the Tamils as if they were all terrorists.

However, the people quickly learned about the LTTE and that not all Tamils were terrorists and that laid the foundation for the nation to unite for peace. I request the Sinhala and Tamil people not to look at the Muslim community with suspicion, fear or distrust.

Not all Muslims are terrorists. It is only a very small minority who are linked to such a barbaric terrorist organization, he said. “It is important therefore, that peace and harmony prevail among the Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil communities. It is important to foster trust among all communities.”

He emphasized the importance of everybody joining to protect national security.The President briefed the media about the steps taken to curb terrorism, ensure national security and safety of the people and bring back normalcy in the country and urged the media to support this endeavour.