Easter attacks: Channel 4 bombshell and People’s right to truth

8 September 2023 12:03 am – 5      – 462

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An international probe on the Easter Sunday attacks is likely if the government does not address the trust deficit in domestic probes

 

Where light is absent, darkness becomes reality
Where the truth is absent, falsehood becomes history

Those who are uncomfortable with the truth may try to accuse Britain’s Channel 4 television of pedalling lies through their Tuesday night programme on Sri Lanka’s Easter Sunday terror attacks. To survive in politics and save their skins, they may do so. But for civic-conscious people, Channel 4 has reignited a fire in their hearts in their search for the truth.

When important happenings in our lifetime are taught as the history of our country to future generations, will it be truth-based or mere deception? The question assumes vital importance when Sri Lanka is seen as a country where the people’s right to the truth is increasingly denied. Truth seekers grope in the dark as their democratic space is controlled by forces of darkness.

Successive governments have no answers to the cries of tens of thousands of people who want to know what happened to their disappeared loved ones. The kith and kin of Sri Lanka’s renowned investigative journalist and editor, Lasantha Wickrematunge, have little or no hope that the authorities will find and bring those who killed him to justice. The authorities have still not found the killers of journalist Pradeep Ekneligoda. Despite international pressure, their efforts to seek truth and justice have been frustrated by successive governments’ lack of commitment to solving the cases.

To date, we do not know how Janatha Vimukthi leader Rohana Wijeweera and his deputy, Upatissa Gamanayake, were killed. No autopsy or forensic studies were done. Neither is there any post-mortem examination on the body of separatist terror group leader Velupillai Prabhakaran. When history records these incidents, the truth is what ruling politicians and officials who are miserly with the truth dole out as truth. The more politically charged a particular event or situation is, the more lies and deception engulf it.

In Sri Lanka’s post-independence history, nothing is a more politically charged mystery than the Easter Sunday terror attacks in April 2019. As citizens, we want to know the truth. But our enthusiasm is not shared by our governments. Their attitude favours those who suppress the truth.
Easter Sunday attack investigations are systematically disrupted. Whatever reports are submitted following inquiries are either incomplete or released with redactions. Whether in-camera evidence is included in these reports, we do not know.

The 2019 Easter Sunday bombings were too sophisticated and well-coordinated to have been carried out by a novice terrorist group without outside help.
The authorities were quick to label the group as ISIS-linked, probably to allay doubts about its ability to carry out a terror attack of such magnitude. But the authorities themselves are suspects in the larger scheme of things. The then President, Maithripala Sirisena and those in charge of the country’s defence at the time when the bombs went off have been held accountable by the Supreme Court for failing to take necessary action to prevent the Easter Sunday attacks despite receiving early intelligence warnings from India.

And now comes the bombshell claim by three whistleblowers featured in the Channel 4 programme: The Easter Sunday terror attacks were planned by the military intelligence chief, Suresh Sally; he had met members of the terror group; he had told one of the main whistleblowers that the plan was to make Sri Lanka “unsafe” to enable Gotabaya Rajapaksa to become the President; State Minister Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan alias Pillayan met the members of the terror group in prison and facilitated the plot with Maj. Gen. Salley; Pillayan had a secret killer squad called the Tripoli Platoon, which was responsible for the killing of Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunge.
There are too many unanswered questions also.

Was an unseen mastermind handling the terror group? Suicide bombs need not be set off by the carrier; they can also be detonated by a remote device. Was the terrorist who stayed at Colombo’s Taj Samudra Hotel unable to blast the bomb while he was there because his handler had a change of mind and did not want it to happen at this hotel? Inquiries reveal the bomber had subsequently contacted a person said to be from “intelligence”. Later that day, the terrorist died in a blast at a small inn in Dehiwala. Did he blow himself up or did his handler kill him by detonating the bomb with a remote device?

Deepening the mystery was a military group’s involvement in the forced release from police custody of a key suspect, said to be the alleged “intelligence” operative the would-be Taj Samudra suicide bomber had contact with after he left the hotel. Inquiries reveal the military group got him released, saying he was working on a state project.
Another big puzzle is why the authorities did not act on a motorcycle bomb at Palamunai near Kattankudy in the east three days before the attack. The incident, strangely, did not make big news. Even a person with a low IQ in charge of the country’s defence would be able to connect the dots between the dry-run blast and the Indian warning and take quick action to thwart the terror attacks.

When we do not have answers to these and other questions, why blame Channel 4 for telecasting the programme? We, the people who have been affected and aggrieved by the attacks, have the right to know the truth. But who is suppressing our right to the truth?
Every year on March 24, the United Nations marks the International Day for the People’s Right to the Truth. The day came to be observed in recognition of the frustrations and difficulties involved in trying to know the truth about who killed El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero, a priest who championed the cause of the oppressed, criticised the US-backed right-wing government, and dared to tell the military, “In the name of God, stop the killings, stop the repression.”
A day after he made the plea to the military, he was killed by an assassin. To date, no one has been arrested or punished for the crime. Years later, the El Salvadorian government admitted it was a government job. But none was punished. A UN inquiry, however, held a top military officer responsible for the killing of Archbishop Romera who was made a saint by Pope Francis in 2018.

A similar UN inquiry cannot be ruled out if the government does not take measures to address the trust deficit with regard to Easter Sunday terror attack probes. Even Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith is calling for an international probe as the bona fide of the domestic investigations is in question.
PS: To win elections, politicians are known to create a sense of insecurity among the people. Simply put, fear brings results in politics. The use of fear is an effective way to influence voting behaviour, says Kirk Waldroff of the American Psychological Association.

Fear of external enemies, terrorists, both international and home-grown, migrants, and even minorities who are citizens becomes part of a strategy to win elections. There are many examples across the Palk Strait.
Power-hungry politicians lie and lie until their lies go into history as the accepted ‘truth’.

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