First, it was journalists who were labelled “traitors” for writing what displeased the political establishment of the country and last week in Parliament, a group of lawyers too were given the same tag by none other than Prime Minister Ratnasiri Wickremanayaka, who said that those who violate the Constitution irrespective of what profession they practiced were “traitors.”
The Prime Minister’s comments came after Chief Opposition Whip Joseph Michael Perera questioned in the House an article that appeared on the official Defence Ministry web site in which five lawyers who appeared in a contempt of court hearing on behalf of a private newspaper company were branded “traitors in black coats.” The newspaper was charged for contempt for going back on a court ruling to abstain from writing articles defamatory of Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
“Under the Constitution, any person charged with an offence is entitled to be heard, in person or by an attorney-at-law, at a fair trial by a competent authority. By labelling lawyers traitors, they are being intimidated and hence no lawyer will come forward to appear in a case against a government official fearing they too would be branded in this manner,” the Opposition Whip said.
He also said all those who were charged with attempting to overthrow the government in the 1971 insurrection, were defended by lawyers but at no time were those lawyers accused of being traitors for doing so.
However, the Prime Minister was unapologetic about the article that appeared on the web site and said it had rightly called the lawyers traitors. “The newspaper, by comparing the Defence Secretary with Prabhakaran, committed an act of treachery and the lawyers by appearing for that paper too committed a treacherous act,” he said.
The other issue that surfaced in the House was the government’s decision to reactivate the Sri Lanka Press Council, with Opposition and UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe calling for its abolition. “A free and responsible media culture can be created only through compromise and consensus and not by enforcing rigid rules and suppression,” he said, in a special statement to the House.
Media Minister Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena said the reactivation of the Press Council was not intended to suppress journalists or impose restrictions on media personnel but was needed to provide relief to aggrieved parties as self regulation of the media had not proved effective.
The plight of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) surfaced once again in Parliament, with JVP Parliamentary Group Leader Anura Dissanayaka moving an adjournment motion in the House in which he accused the Government of trying to use the IDP issue to further its political causes. “Successive governments in this country have used race as an issue to come to power and stay in power. This government has also done little to move away from this path to bring about reconciliation between the different communities,” he said.
Leader of the House Minister Nimal Siripala De Silva said the Opposition was attempting to give a wrong impression to the world about the IDPs. “There are bound to be shortcomings when dealing with such a large number of displaced persons. We cannot keep them in five star hotels. We don’t have Aladdin’s magic lamp to rub and find solutions to all the problems overnight,” the Minister said.
Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said the conditions in the IDP centres have improved significantly and the government was committed to resettling the people as soon as possible.
However, he said that the free movement of the IDPs would be restricted till the LTTE cadres who have infiltrated the camps are identified and segregated. He said, this was imperative not only for the welfare of the IDPs but for all the people living in other parts of the country.