In his famous obituary, entitled “And Then They Came For Me” and written because he was certain the Government of Sri Lanka would have him assassinated, the leading Sinhalese journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga warned fellow Sri Lankans of the consequences of turning a blind eye to the targeting of Tamils in the North.1 Lasantha quoted Pastor Niemoller’s words said at the time when Nazi Germany was emerging but ordinary Germans refused to believe they needed to act:
First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
Sadly, but entirely predictably, these warnings seem to be coming true in Sri Lanka now.
Two “Up-Country Tamils” – Tamils who are still considered “of Indian descent” even though this may be 5-6 generations ago – were found dead in a town in central Sri Lanka, where Sinhalese are in the majority. One had gone to collect firewood and another was “found dead” inside a public passenger coach. These are simply the latest causalities of a growing trend to target “Up-Country Tamils” – who have had little or no contact with LTTE – simply because of their ethnic origins.
And meanwhile the BBC reports that Muslims protested at what they say is police brutality against members of the community, shouting anti-police slogans and with posters saying “Ramadan Wet with Blood” and “Innocent to Sacrifice”.2
In the past few weeks the police have announced the killing of men they describe as underworld figures, usually in encounters on the street. The police in the capital say that they are engaged in a necessary clampdown on organised crime. Strangely, almost all of the victims are Muslims but police argue the incidents have nothing to do with ethnicity.
According to the BBC: “The government is unapologetic. It says it wants to use the same resources it used against the now defeated Tamil Tigers, against the underworld.” The Sri Lankan media are mostly supportive of this presumptive form of judicial execution and according to a leading Muslim writer, this attitude permeates Sri Lankan civil society which is already starting to “forget” the war and on-going implications.3
Sinhalese have also been targeted. This includes members of a fringe party called the JVP – three journalists were detained for (it is alleged) filming a construction site of a new house of a VIP in the Southern Province and JVP supporters who were putting up posters were attacked and one supporter abducted by supporters of the Government.
Commentators are now worried that the next group will be “Christian terrorists”.4
Christians, especially those who speak of reconciliation and fairness are increasingly considered to be disloyal to the country where a violent form of Buddhism has fused with nationalism to create a state religion which tolerates less and less dissent.
In the words of the US based analyst of Sri Lanka, Professor Neil Devotta: “When Sri Lanka celebrated independence in 1948 many considered it the post-colonial country most likely to succeed economically and democratically. Sixty years later the island represents illiberalism, political decay, and ethnocentrism. Not only has the country retrogressed on nearly all important indicators representing secularism, liberalism, pluralism, ethnic coexistence, and good governance, it is also poised to degenerate further towards dictatorship.”5