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Anna in Russia & Lasantha in Sri Lanka

  • Anna Politkovskaya gets justice in communist Russia
  • Sri Lankan Government denies murdering 37 journalists

| by Pearl Thevanaygam

(June 10, 2014, Bradford UK, Sri Lanka Guardian) Russian court sentenced five persons to prison including two murderers of journalist Anna Politkovskaya to life imprisonment yesterday in an unprecedented move. It was in 2003 I met the murdered Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya in Cardiff, Wales during a conference organized by the British Council for refugee journalists, writers and poets.

 Anna Politkovskaya

Anna was a feisty four foot something petite lady with a ready smile and one could hardly envisage she would take on Kremlin and expose human rights violations taking place in Chechnya. She was murdered as she was getting into a lift at her apartment block when unknown gunmen mowed her down in 2006.

The court also ordered that the children of the slain journalist be compensated. The most intriguing aspect of this sentencing is that Moscow, infamous for its aversion to open criticism of Kremlin politics, is now easing its stubborn stance and inching towards accountability and justice.

Would our President too take a page out of Russia’s example and allow war crimes including the killing of more than 37 media workers be investigated independently and culprits sentenced?

Lasantha Wickrematunge’s three children and wife Raine are in Australia and are beginning to come to terms with his untimely death at the hands of the government as he went about his merry way exposing politicians, corruption in public bodies, human rights violations and the intrusive and un-necessary war in the North and East in the name of wiping out the LTTE impervious to the danger lurking. Prageeth Ekneliyagoda has disappeared and his family is left without a breadwinner as are all the other murdered journalists’ families once the hue and cry is over who are left to fend for themselves.

Is the government making any effort to look into their welfare? Some journalists who rode on the back of Lasantha are now living in the lap of comfort in the US making evocative statements and winning scholarships while his own family is in limbo Down Under.

Any government which undermines the importance of the media stands to lose its grip and stands to lose in the next election. The media can be compared to the boy who wanted to tell on his brother who broke his neighbour’s window by throwing a football just for the heck of it. Trying to stop his brother from telling on him he makes a bargain. “I’ll give you my football, gloves and jersey if you could keep quiet about this,” the miscreant told him. The younger brother would have none of it. He said, “I just want to tell”.

Journalists seem to possess this extra gene in their system which cries out to tell it all and this is why they are a lethal force.

Which brings the subject of the government’s paranoia in blocking of websites which is one way of enhancing their popularity. Apprehending, arresting, intimidating and killing journalists who point out inadequacies in governance, corruption among corporate bodies and government institutions only pave way for their voice to be heard outside and pressure brought on to topple governments.

This tactic is equivalent to providing the stick to get beaten up.

Sri Lankan independent media be they English, Sinhala or Tamil, despite their paucity of funds and spurred on by collective conscience and the intimidation by the government through censorship and assault should be credited with their stance which has impelled the UNHRC to bring the Rajapaksa government to prove its conduct during the last throes of war against the LTTE which plundered the lives of 40,000 or more innocent civilians.
Just like Modi mania the government is rubbing its hands in glee that UNHRC High Commissioner Navi Pillai would soon retire. UNHRC is not just Navi Pillai and the hard work she undertook is passed on to her successor. She would also play the role of consultant to her successor even when she retires and she is going nowhere.

Ms Pillai’s determination and her relentless pursuit to bring justice to the thousands of civilians killed in the war is not in vain. UNHRC records are not erased but in fact are governed and protected by mechanisms under UN rules. As intense pressure is brought on our current regime for its accountability for war crimes and crimes against humanity the government’s burying its head in the sand like the ostrich would not mitigate its crimes which have now reached its zenith and is under intense scrutiny by UNHRC.

And the media is watching and following on how the government would try to wriggle itself out of the war crimes accusations amidst tomes of evidence already in the hands of the UNHRC.

Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two determined reporters at Washington Post, would bring down President Nixon in the early 70’s through their relentless pursuit of his Watergate taps of democrats through ‘plumbers’ who bugged their meetings at Watergate Hotel in Washington tracing their bank accounts to far away South America for two long years since 1972.

Julian Assange’s Wikileaks would play havoc with many politicians including those in the US and who pursue him relentlessly to the point of seeking his extradition to face charges of rape which is disputable. Incidentally he was given refuge at Frontline Club in Paddington ( a war correspondents’ club in London) by its owner, Graham Greene’s grand nephew Vaughn Smith, until he was safely despatched to Ecuador. Both the UK and US are still braying for his blood.

Andrew Gilligan was sacked from the BBC for giving evidence that Dr John Kelly had said there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction as alleged by the US and supported by its puppet UK which caused the Iraqi invasion. Dr Kelly’s body would be found several days later on the path he took for his last walk on the hills. Although Gilligan was charged with unsubstantiated evidence he left a paper trail which still dogs former PM Blair and who could one day face war crimes charges for invading Iraq on trumped up evidence along with that moronic US President Dubya.

Closer home, the President should shelve his plans for being elected for a third term since he is being probed by UNHRC which has already set in motion mechanisms towards a final indictment in Hague.. The media both national and international should be lauded for relentlessly pursuing the government and assisting Ms Navi Pillai whose efforts would finally bring justice, redress and compensation to war victims on both sides.

(The writer has been a journalist for 25 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)

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