The green card kite

The government has done itself little credit by flying a kite that some of the journalists savaged recently were looking for ``green cards’’ to emigrate overseas. Green card holders have the right of permanent residence in the U.S. and that is how the description has come into the lexicon of everyday use. When he met publishers and editors after Keith Noyahr, associate editor of the then Richard Pieris Group- controlled The Nation was savaged, President Mahinda Rajapaksa himself postulated that these things may all be related to a quest for green cards. Last week, police spokesman Ranjit Gunasekera, seated alongside defence spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella at a news briefing, also said as much with the assertion that he knew of such instances.

This is sheer calumny, as we said when the president first broached the possibility. We are certain that was not a story that germinated in the president’s head. Somebody had obviously planted it there. It is well known that some of those who received asylum in western countries, mainly in North America and Europe, post July ‘83 took advantage of what was virtually an anti-Tamil pogrom here to find opportunities for themselves overseas. But it was not the Tamils who started the 1983 riots. They cannot be faulted for the failure of the J.R. Jayewardene administration of the day to nip what exploded into frightening proportions in the bud. They sought asylum abroad because of what happened here. They certainly did not create the conditions for asylum seeking. There are some who believe that President Jayewardene did not order the armed services and police to quell those riots because he was not sure that his orders would be followed. Be that as it may, that sadly was an abject failure of a leader with wisdom and character from whom better could have been expected.

It is possible that some journalists, like many Tamils who fled the post-1983 violence, would prefer to live in countries offering them more opportunities than their homeland. For those with talent and qualifications, the grass is definitely greener in the developed countries of the world than in their strife-torn homeland. As Mr. Lalith Athulathmudali, a senior minister of the Jayewardene government was to say at that time, many who left were economic rather than political refuges. A desire to find new lives and careers abroad is true not only of journalists but also of most other professions. The large majority of our youth who can aspire to jobs abroad would like to get the hell out of Sri Lanka as quickly as they can. Too many of our women endure the heartbreak leaving small children at home to go off to the Middle East and elsewhere to work as domestics because they see no other way of breaking out of a stranglehold of poverty at home. Rambukwella at least had the grace to say that Noyahr was not one of those they were thinking of when the green card kite was flown at the briefing he was chairing. He could have usefully exempted Namal Perera too, one of the most recent victims.

As Perera himself has told friends, it was his good fortune that he was with Mahendra Ratnaweera, an old friend who is a political affairs officer at the British High Commission in Colombo, when he was set upon by the thugs riding one of those ubiquitous white vans duly equipped with false number plates. It was Ratnaweera’s misfortune that he was with Perera. This attack, like that on Noyahr that drove this talented journalist and is family out of the country, bore all the hallmarks of a state agency being responsible. It is up to the police to find out who was responsible and bring the culprits to book instead of falling back, as the new IGP to his shame has already done, of saying that he’s also looking for white vans. Mr. IGP, you are paid by the taxpayer for doing that among other things!

The law enforcers have told the president that they are hamstrung by Noyahr’s reluctance/refusal to make a full statement. No rocket science is needed to fathom the reason why the victim has chosen to maintain silence – he would have obviously been threatened that not just he but his whole family will have to pay the price of any finger pointing. As has been pointed out after the Noyahr abduction, the police will not be able to get a statement from the corpse in a murder case. But levity aside, now that the victim and his family are out of the country, he may be willing to bare all. Perhaps Sri Lanka’s new high commissioner in London, a retired Supreme Court judge, may usefully have a chat with Noyahr if the authorities are serious about tracking down the culprits. The questions that were asked while he was held would be a pointer to who ordered the abduction. Namal Perera’s visiting card was in Noyahr’s wallet when the latter was abducted. What followed is not likely to be a coincidence.

The goons who went for Namal Perera were unlucky that the target was being driven by a British High Commission employee which placed the attempted abduction on a higher plane. But the media admittedly was less vocal when the victims were from Jaffna rather than Colombo. Much more noise was made and dust kicked up when an English editor was targeted than when Tamil journalists were not just abducted but bumped off in the government-controlled Jaffna peninsula. According to the Sri Lanka Press Institute as many as a dozen media people have been killed this year. Some methods have been devised to protect those at risk. As in all things human, the possibility of abuse of such facilities cannot be ruled out. Assuming that a through investigation is done and a suspect of consequence is identified, will he be arrested? Few people will have confidence of that happening. It is now several months since Justice Shirani Tillakawardene handed in her report on arms procurement. That report remains unpublished to date and it is not hard to fathom the reason why.

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